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We are Still Fighting for Justice: #GOTV

This email is part of our Voting Rights Campaign blog series. Today we hear from Willie Nell Avery, from Perry County, Alabama, who is a stellar and inspiring civil rights veteran who had to fight for her right to vote in the early 1960s and today works in the Board of Registrar Office.

Interviewed by Dr. Janice Marie Johnson,  Multicultural Ministries and Leadership Director, and Annette Marquis, LGBTQ and Multicultural Programs Director from the UUA’s Multicultural Growth Witness staff team on the road with the Living Legacy Pilgrimage.

Janice Marie Johnson: Would you please just share with us a snippet of your extraordinary story, Mrs. Avery?

Mrs. Avery: Basically I start with my move to Perry County, and my husband was not a registered voter, and there were lots of other people who weren’t. And we decided that we were not really citizens until we reached that status to become registered voters. Every time the registrar’s office would open, I would go and attempt to get registered. And we had to take a test in order to become registered. And I took the test. And each time the board was open, I would go back, and they would tell me they hadn’t graded my paper. That went on for a while.

Finally I told them: if you have misplaced my test, give me another. But they knew my walk, I guess! When I would walk in they would look up and say, “well we haven’t graded yours yet”. After everybody was being turned down, we wrote letters to the Justice Department telling them the treatment we were receiving. They had a hearing in Mobile, Alabama on the case and my husband happened to be one of the persons to testify. So in June ’63 they allowed my husband to become a registered voter, followed by mine in July 1963. I never filled out another application.

I guess they thought when they allowed the two of us {to vote}, because we were involved in the case, that we would stop, that we had achieved what we wanted to do.

But we didn’t have enough people, something like less than maybe 300 voters, and knew that would not make a difference, so we just kept pursuing.

And from that time until now I’ve been involved in a lot of things.

Today it is better, and not better. We hold more positions now than ever have held. In the Courthouse where I work, I work in one office in the Board of Registrar, we have more people in positions than ever. In the Commission of Revenue, there is a black woman. The elected official in the 2nd clerk is a black woman. The first African American probate judge, happened to be a woman. In the sheriff’s dept, there is a black person. So we have that leverage now.

Click here to listen to our interview with Mrs. Willie Nell Avery

But I see another arising of slavery, where they are dividing us now and almost about to conquer. The fight is not where they will strike you with a billy club, put water on you, or put dogs on you, or spray with tear gas…

But that mentality is still here. From ‘61 up until now, we are still fighting for justice. To make sure that everyone is treated fairly. But we are still struggling, still out here there trying to make a difference in our lives.

Annette Marquis: What drives you to do this? Why is this so important to you?

Mrs. Avery: I thought all of us are created equal. I really did. I thought, that’s what the Constitution says. I don’t understand why the color of your skin has anything to do with your character. I believe if you have it, and the Lord puts it here for everybody, I should have a piece of that pie too. And I’m not satisfied if I don’t. And I won’t be satisfied.

Janice Marie Johnson: Mrs. Avery, I know you have said you will continue this fight until you take your last breath.

Mrs. Avery: That’s right!

Janice Marie Johnson: Are you ramping up the fight during this election period?

Mrs. Avery:I am. I made a statement in church today. And I’m telling people:

Go to the polls and vote!! Click here to find your polling location.

Janice Marie Johnson: Mrs. Avery, we are so grateful and you continue to inspire us. Thank you.