GOTG Profile: JoAnn Fuller
By Amreet Sandhu (Guest Blogger)
For more than a decade, JoAnn Fuller has been one of my strongest supporters. She is so very wise. I think of her each year during Black History Month because of the work we have done together on community projects, and the time she spent in Selma. This year, with the movie Selma in theaters, I thought it would be fun to share with all of you JoAnn’s thoughts on the film and her role in the Civil Rights Movement. In my conversation with JoAnn, I was reminded of what she frequently helps me see: There is plenty each of us can do, in our own unique ways, to participate in creating a world that works better for more of us.
Q: Why did you feel you needed to participate in the Civil Rights Movement?
A: In March, 1965, we saw police dogs unleashed on peaceful protesters demanding their right to vote, and heard Martin Luther King, Jr. ask for supporters to come and stand with them in Selma, Alabama. I was a college student at San Francisco State and we were fired up. Instead of taking notes on history gone by, we had a chance to make history!
We collected dimes and quarters at rallies, asking for donations to Send Students to Selma. We collected enough to pay gas for a caravan of cars heading out of the Bay Area on our way to the South. Along the way, we heard shocking news reports and began thinking about nonviolent responses to being attacked. And we began to think about how change is made.
Q: How did your parents feel about you going?
A: We stopped to say goodbye to my parents. They were understandably nervous about what might happen, but they were extremely proud of our going. My parents were community activists, especially active in the Social Concerns Committee of the Methodist Church and other social justice causes. My dad actually called the church hierarchy to complain that the church hadn’t organized caravans that his daughter could join; but I was glad to go with fellow students!
Q: What was most interesting about attending the March to Montgomery?
A: We were in Selma for three weeks during the demonstrations. Participating in civil rights work changed my life and led to a lifetime of walking in the streets demonstrating for good causes. So everything was “interesting.”
I was really impressed with the amount of behind the scenes work that a successful action required. The organizers had to keep hundreds of demonstrators fed, housed, safe and active in a dangerous situation. Fortunately, that meant plenty of singing and listening to important people with a lot to share.
We stayed with Mrs. Johnson, a teacher, in the Black area of Selma. Her words have stayed with me. She said, they call us agitators and they call you outside agitators. But I remember that the agitator is the part of a washing machine that gets the dirt out and the clothes clean. I’m proud of agitators!
Words to live by!
Q: Did you watch the movie Selma? If yes, what were your impressions? How did it compare to your experience?
A: I’ve seen the movie twice and must confess I looked for (but didn’t see) myself and friends in the historic footage of the film. But really the film provided information we didn’t have at the time when we were in Selma. So the film enriched the experiences we had being there with the more complete picture of the negotiations going on between the movement’s organizers and the governments involved.
I also appreciated how the film highlighted the people of Selma who put their lives on the line so many times. We as white students felt pretty proud responding to the call to come to Selma. But our host, Mrs. Johnson, who was hired by the white school board, risked her job and safety repeatedly when she agitated for civil rights for her community. It was the people of Selma as well as the better known organizers who are the heroes and sheroes of those times.