Civil Rights Veteran and MLK Scholar Share Perspectives on Voting Rights in Black and White

Posted on November 18, 2014
Joy Washington

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., speaks in Camden, Ala. 
Photo courtesy of Bob Adelman. data-lightbox='featured'
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., speaks in Camden, Ala. Photo courtesy of Bob Adelman.


The University of South Alabama will host a civil rights and social justice lecture, “This Bright Light of Ours: Black and White Reflections on MLK” to be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 18, in the University’s Health Sciences Building Auditorium. The event is free and open to the public. A reception and book signing will follow.

 The Southern Christian Leadership Conference SCLC and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, SNCC, Civil Rights Veteran Maria Gitin, and distinguished Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholar, Dr. Lewis V. Baldwin, Professor Emeritus at Vanderbilt University, will offer fresh perspectives on social justice based on their teenage encounters with the message of Martin Luther King Jr. during the Alabama voting rights struggle in 1965.

 Gitin was an idealistic 19 year old college freshman when she was called to action after viewing televised images of the brutal attacks on peaceful voting rights demonstrators during Bloody Sunday, in Selma, Ala., on March 7, 1965.  She immediately signed up for the Summer Community Organization and Political Education, SCOPE project of the SCLC to assist African-American leaders in their nonviolent fight for the right to vote.

Atypical among white civil rights volunteers, Gitin came from a rural low income family so she raised funds to attend an intensive orientation in Atlanta, Ga., where she heard King speak several times. She was assigned to Wilcox County, Ala., one of the most violently segregated counties in the South and the birthplace of Dr. Baldwin. Although the two did not meet until four decades later when Gitin began researching her new book, "This Bright Light of Ours: Stories from the Voting Rights Fight,” published by the University of Alabama Press.

The two authors were both influenced by King while still in their teens and quickly forged a friendship. Baldwin wrote the Introduction to Gitin's memoir about the voting rights struggle in his community, and she credits him for contributing greatly to its detail and depth.

Through conversational interviews with more than 50 Wilcox County residents and former civil rights workers including Baldwin and his brother David L. Baldwin, Gitin has created a channel for the voices of these unheralded heroes who formed the backbone of the civil rights movement. The book has received widespread praise from both scholars and activists, and is currently being used as a textbook at USA and elsewhere.

Gitin holds a bachelor’s degree from Antioch University, and did undergraduate work at San Francisco State College between 1964-1967.

For more than four decades, Gitin has passionately fought for racial justice in diverse communities. For 28 years, she was principal of Maria Gitin & Associates consulting group working to strengthen diverse nonprofit organizations. Among other projects, she founded a shelter for survivors of domestic violence and a public library foundation.

Maria Gitin is a current member of Bay Area Civil Rights Veterans,, Temple Beth El, and the NAACP.

Gitin lives in northern California with her photographer husband, Samuel Torres Jr.

Lewis V. Baldwin is widely recognized as one of the foremost scholars on the life, thought and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.   Baldwin was 16 years old when he first encountered King in his birthplace of Camden, Ala.  King had come to encourage the African-American community in their non-violent struggle for voting rights that were denied to them. “Doncha get weary children!” is part of the inspiring message that Lewis, his family and neighbors recalled for the rest of their lives.

Baldwin is the oldest of 12 children, ten of whom lived to adulthood. Baldwin was raised by his mother Flora Bell Baldwin and his father, charismatic Baptist preacher, L.V. Baldwin.

 Then younger Baldwin labored in a local sawmill, where the family strove to rise above the toxicity of a harshly segregated society. He was encouraged by teachers at the all-Black Camden Academy, and he embarked on a life of commitment to social justice, scholarship and deep faith.

Baldwin holds a bachelor’s degree from Talladega College, a master’s degree in Black Church Studies and a master’s degree in divinity from Colgate-Rochester Divinity School, and in 1980 he received a Ph.D. in American Christianity from Northwestern University. Baldwin taught at a number of colleges and universities throughout his career and since 1984, he was Professor of Religious Studies at Vanderbilt University until his early retirement last year in order to focus on King scholarship, publications and lectures.

He is the author of “In a Single Garment of Destiny: A Global Vision of Justice”  and “The Prayer Life of Martin Luther King Jr” as well as sixty articles and 10 other books on the life and thought of Martin Luther King Jr., with an emphasis on King’s application of his faith to a life of social action.

Baldwin lives in Nashville, Tenn. with his wife, Jacqueline Laws-Baldwin. 

Sponsors of this University event are College of Arts and Sciences, departments of history, philosophy, sociology, anthropology, and social work, African-American Studies Program, Gender Studies Program, Center for Generational Studies, Office of Multicultural Student Affairs and Common Read/Common World. Additional support provided by Omega Community Outreach. Community support provided by the Mobile Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.

To find out more about Gitin, please visit

For more information about Baldwin, visit

For more details about the event, please contact the department of history in the USA College of Arts and Sciences at (251) 460-6210.

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