Marcia Heinemann Saunders

  Voter and voter registration volunteer, Fayette County, Tennessee. Courtesy of Marcia Saunders

Marcia Heinemann Saunders




Fayette County, Tennessee


Freedom Summer

It wasn’t about wonderful chats and sitting round planning the revolution or saying, ‘C’mon let’s vote!’ It was quiet conversations and absolute determination.

The story of Fayette County, Tennessee, is one of people rising up from poverty. Their fight for voting rights was part of a long struggle to gain control over their lives through education and decent jobs. In 1964, local black leaders invited a team from Cornell University to support their voter registration campaign. Marcia Heinemann volunteered.

She attended training sessions and learned how to respond to extreme violence, including how to allow herself to be picked up and carried away. They were driven off isolated dirt roads by men with guns, and there was the constant threat of attack:

My job was to keep us calm while my friend steered. Days before we arrived they found the bodies of 3 civil rights workers 15 miles south in Mississippi. We knew the stakes and it was scary

The team visited people to talk about voting and drove them to register – often in silence, as people knew they could be evicted, lose their job or go missing. On 6th August they waited hours to vote, and lost because ballot boxes were stuffed or lost. More white people voted than existed as corrupt officials manipulated the system.

The whole community met in church on Sundays. Religion was important, and church was a safe place.

We’d have a slot to talk and answer questions. The Gospel singing was beautiful and made us feel we were together, and stronger.

It was dangerous for the people who offered accommodation to the volunteers – this young woman’s mother lost her job for inviting them into her home. Photo courtesy of Marcia Saunders

I am unbreakable,

I am powerful.

You can’t break me, because I am the devil in the night.

The sun in the sea,

The sparkles in the jet black sky.

I am attractive ,

I am gorgeous,

Don’t JUDGE me.

Because I know who I am,

I am cute.

How could you dislike me?

I am perfect

Because I have imperfections,

And you cannot JUDGE me.

You can be jealous,

But remember…

We’re already in a callous WORLD.

– Maya Hristova

Inspired by Maya Angelou – empowering women’s rights