American author, educator, and clergyman, Henry van Dyke once said, “Genius is talent set on fire by courage”. As written, the quote renders a unique definition of genius. The commutative of the quote could be rendered, “Courage, sets talent on fire, to form genius”. The lady in the picture is NOT, of course, Charlie Brown, but her name IS Charlie. She is Charlie Will Thornton: a profile in courage; a talented educator; a fiery Civil Rights Activist, and therefore, by van Dyke’s definition, a GENIUS. She is a local hero in Randolph County.
For many years following the Civil War, Southern government “officials” were relentless in their plot to deny African Americans the right to vote. They diabolically, designed and developed, “tactics” which prohibited and precluded African Americans from voting. One of these “tactics” was to remove registered, African American voters’ names from the roll of registered voters. Other tactics included, but were not limited to; terroristic violence and economic intimidation, literacy tests, poll taxes, permanent disenfranchisement upon conviction for certain crimes, creation of super-majoritarian districting schemes, ‘grandfather clauses,’ and ‘white primaries’. “In 1956, only 25 percent of all black adults in the South were registered to vote; a number which stood in stark contrast to the 65 percent of all white adults who were registered. In 1960, only 9.1 percent of the voting age blacks in Montgomery County, Alabama, were registered, in contrast to 46.1 percent of the voting age whites. In two other Alabama counties, populated predominantly by blacks, none were registered” (Randall Kennedy).
It was in the hellish heat of the brutally boiling climate of the 1955 South that “officials” removed the names of registered African American voters from the electoral rolls (list of voters), of Randolph County. This type of tactic was nothing new in the South, however, this time, the act would not go uncontested. The African American leaders of Randolph, began a petition for the purpose of garnering enough names of disenfranchised African Americans, to meet the minimal standard required for a class action lawsuit against the County. According to laws of that time, the magic number of “class members” usually required to enjoin this type of legal action was 22 or more. The final number of members who signed the petition in Randolph County was “22”, the “magic number”.
To proceed with the class action lawsuit, one member of the “class” had to be designated the “lead plaintiff”. This person would represent the entire class and, as a matter of fact, all of the disenfranchised African American voters in the County. This courageous person was, Ms. Charlie Will Thornton. She was chosen because she worked outside of the County and thereby, falsely believed, to be beyond the “reach” of the long, gnarled, and crooked arm, of the Randolph County officials. She, however, was not. Although the plaintiffs won the case, Ms. Thornton lost her job and was “black-balled” by all of the surrounding counties’ Boards of Education. She was forced to work, housekeeping, janitorial and other menial labor positions before returning to her true passion, teaching, several years later.
The other 21 members of the “class” were extremely courageous, in their own right, for their names were public and easily within the sweeping grasp of the “long arm” of prejudice, inequality and injustice. Among these names were: Eugene Carter, Sr. (husband of Aunt Vulla the Comet’s sister); Eugene Carter, Jr. (son of Aunt Vulla and the Comet’s nephew); Jule Wynn, (frequent visitor and friend of Charlie Brown), Leroy Lightner, (fellow Church member and Deacon of Charlie Brown; AND last but not least, number 10 on the list of “the Magic 22”, GOOD OLE CHARLIE BROWN. In the case of these 22 people, COURAGE IGNITED TALENT, RESULTING IN TRUE GEEENIUS!
Join us next week for THE CONCLUSION of “GRANDDADDY WAS A GEEENIUS!”