A Town, Activism and Anne Braden

There is something about Whitesburg, in far Eastern Kentucky, that encourages activism. So I was happy to go there in early June to watch a new documentary about Anne Braden and her role in the Civil Rights Movement.


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I watched the movie and when I got home, I wrote Mimi Pickering, one of the film-makers:

Hi Mimi,

I’m so glad I came to Whitesburg to see the Anne Braden film. I don’t know about others in the audience, but I cried while watching some of the scenes because of the brutality of beatings and total disrespect shown African-Americans before and during the Civil Rights Movement in the 60s. I cried because I knew this was real and happened in America and that it’s still not over.

The fact that she was born and raised in the Deep South makes actions of this woman even more remarkable. You know in Appalachia, (I’m not that familiar with many traits outside the region), people are always saying, “He was called to preach or called into the ministry by God.” If that is true, it seems folks may be called to other fields of service and Anne was called to work for equal justice. 

[imgcontainer left] [img:seedtime%2C+appalshop.JPG] Appalshop in Whitesburg, Kentucky.

I grew up on a farm in a remote part of West Virginia. I didn’t see an African-American until I was at least 6 or 7 years old when my dad took us to Charleston. We were crossing railroad tracks and a group of African-Americans were waiting there. There were little children in the group. 

We stared at them but didn’t say anything. I remember my dad saying, “Everybody is the same. We are all equal.” That stayed with me.

I have to admit I’ve barely looked beyond Martin Luther King for a leader in the Civil Rights Movement. I knew he couldn’t do all that was accomplished alone but I had no idea one woman, Anne Braden with her husband, Carl, were so important to this movement. Both risked their lives in the endeavor to gain equality for a group of people they owed nothing, except they were human beings, too. 

Anne Braden: Southern Patriot (1924-2006) — 3 minute sample from Anne Lewis on Vimeo.

When Anne spoke at rallies or talked to organizer, what she said about not being able to organize blacks because she was not black but she could organize white people made so much sense and put her in a position that made her equal. So brilliant and so right.

I don’t know if we have anyone of Anne Braden’s caliber during this time in our history. I think people go out and look for causes, something they can get involved in to make an impact but Anne was different. 

She was born with this gift of seeing people, all people, as equal. She knew at a very young age she was meant to work tirelessly towards achieving equality and wanting no glory or accolades in return. 

The film is wonderful, heartbreaking, hopeful, and a reminder of times, places, people and events we should never forget.

Betty Dotson-Lewis is a West Virginia writers and frequent Yonder correspondent.


A message from the Rural Assembly