University of South Alabama, Office of Public Relations
February 6, 2012
Contact: Joy Crawford-Washington, USA Public Relations, (251) 460-6211

Civil Rights Veteran Maria Gitin to Speak at USA

Maria Gitin

Maria Gitin
As part of the University of South Alabama Gender Studies Series and USA Black History Month events, civil rights veteran Maria Gitin will share stories from her journey as a teenage freedom fighter during the summer of 1965 in Wilcox County, Ala., at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 28 in the University of South Alabama Library Auditorium.

This event, which is free and open to the public, is sponsored by the USA Gender Studies program and the USA department of history in the College of Arts and Sciences, the USA African-American Studies program, and the USA Office of Multicultural Student Affairs. Seating is limited.

Gitin’s presentation, “This Bright Light of Ours 1965: Stories from a Teenage Freedom Fighter in Rural Alabama,” will include slides and excerpts from her book “This Bright Light of Ours 1965: Stories from the Wilcox County Voting Rights Movement.”

As a 19-year-old freshman at San Francisco State College, Gitin felt a call to action when she viewed televised images of the brutal treatment of women, children and men during the historic Selma, Ala., Bloody Sunday march. Gitin immediately volunteered for the Summer Community Organizing and Political Education project, SCOPE, a project of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, SCLC.

The SCOPE project worked in partnership with local organizations in 60 counties in six states for 10 weeks focusing on counties with majority black population and few registered black voters. In Wilcox County, selected SCOPE workers including Gitin were also members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, SNCC, team from Selma. Gitin believes that it is important to increase awareness about the Freedom Summer of 1965, which she states has been neglected by many authors and historians who have focused on freedom summer of 1964.

Atypical among white civil rights volunteers, Gitin came from a low-income rural family. She raised funds to attend an intensive six-day orientation in Atlanta featuring legendary civil rights leaders Hosea Williams, Ralph Abernathy, Andrew Young, Septima Clark and others, with a keynote and two sessions led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. About 600 black and white students and field staff attended the orientation prior to traveling to their assigned counties.

Gitin spent the rest of the summer canvassing for voters with local youth in Wilcox County where the Ku Klux Klan was active and the sheriff vitriolic. Her life-changing experiences included speaking at mass meetings, being jailed, and learning the role of whites in the black freedom fight. She never forgot the courageous local black residents who risked their lives to work side by side with her.

Gitin has devoted the past four years to completion of a manuscript based on her original letters, conversations with her co-workers, and interviews with Wilcox County activists and their families. She is determined to create a channel for the unheard voices of the grassroots freedom fighters that formed the backbone of the civil rights movement.

She put herself through college by working low-wage jobs including as a maid and at an inner city Boys Club. Upon graduation from Antioch College, she led the founding of an emergency shelter for abused women and children while executive director of the Monterey, Calif., YWCA. For 28 years, Gitin has led national fundraising and diversity training as principal of Maria Gitin & Associates consulting firm. In addition to her unpublished manuscript, “This Bright Light of Ours 1965,”Gitin has written columns on diversity and voting rights for California newspapers and international professional journals.

Gitin and her husband Samuel Torres Jr., a retired attorney and photographer, live in Santa Cruz County, Calif., where they continue to support diverse leaders through membership in the NAACP, the Cesar Chavez Democratic Club, and through personal friendships. Her foundational work in the civil rights movement has led this Jewish Western woman to live a life of activism, education and philanthropy. "

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