Christal Ann Rice Cooper

Christal Ann Rice Cooper
May Flowers 2017

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Civil Rights Heroine Betty Kilby Fisher Baldwin and "Wit, Will, & Walls"


Christal Cooper – 1,576 Words


Betty Kilby Fisher Baldwin:
For The Sake Of The Children

“Just like there was no room for Baby Jesus in Bethlehem,
these folks are saying there is no room for our children
in the white Warren County School system”
James Wilson Kilby

“You put one foot in front of the other and you take one day at a time
and everyday you vow it is not going to destroy you. 
And you can not allow them to win.
  Only God can have dominion over my life. “
Betty Kilby Fisher Baldwin

            On July 19, 1958, Betty Kilby Fisher with her two older brothers James and John, were three of twenty-two children named in the lawsuit Betty Ann Kilby et als, Plaintiffs vs The County School Board of Warren County.

Betty’s father James Wilson Kilby insisted she and her brothers attend the “white school” instead of sending them outside the county to a segregated school. 

Federal Judge John Paul Jr agreed with her father, and on September 4, 1958, told Warren County School Board officials that they could not deny Negroes admission to the county’s only high school because of race.  Judge Paul demanded the attorneys to have an order readey for his signature on Monday, September 8, 1958, to have the twenty two high school students admitted to the Warren County High School. 

On September 11, 1958 Chief Judge Simon E Sobeloff of the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Judge Paul. 

The fighting intensified when, the next day, Betty’s segregated white-only-school , Warren County High School, became the first school to close at the behest of The Warren County Board of Education.  

Virginia Governor James Lindsay Almond Junior , siting the Massive Resisancse Laws as his reasoning, demanded that all schools enrolling any Negro student immendiatley be closed.   

Thus set the motion for James Kilby’s response to the Governor Almond and state of Virginia’s refusal to abide by the Supreme Court’s 1954 decision in Oliver Brown et al vs. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas.

On September 15, 1959 a photographer from Life Magazine visited the Kilby farm to take a photograph of Betty, her two brothers, and her father.   That same photograph, zoomed in on Betty and her father, became the cover of Betty’s memoir Wit, Will, and Walls. 

“I remember the day we took the photograph.  My father told us to get dressed because they were going to take our pictures. He told us this was serious business.  We werent’ supposed to smile or giggle.  I put on my Sunday School dress.”

         James Kilby informed his three older children of the importance of what their stand would mean:  that they as individuals were guaranteed the political process just as their fellow white citizens; the importance of them being registered and responsible voters; and to vote for the proper people because the laws they made affected their lives.

 Her father and the school counselors explained to the children that they we were soldiers of God’s army, marching to get an education for all of God’s children.  The children were told to never giggle, laugh, and to always stand proud and strong.  This didn’t seem too difficult for Betty, considering being raised in the racial south as a black sharecropper’s daughter.

       “We never played in our Sunday School clothes.  As farmers we didn’t play we worked.”
That work consisted of going to school Monday through Friday, doing homework, and then doing chores:  checking the mailbox, caring for the family calf, milking the cows, cutting the heads off chickens, working in the fields, housework, and constantly being on her guard. 

       Even though the family did not have KKK as neighbors, the Night Riders felt the need to visit the family farm on numerous occasions:  to mutilate and kill their calf; kill their pet dog Tylo; shoot gunshots during the family’s dinner; burn crosses in the family’s yard; place a hangman’s noose on the family’s front porch; and place bloody stained white sheets over the mailbox.  It soon became common practice to view “checking the mailbox” as a frightening chore. 

 “One day I heard something scratching in the mailbox.  I imagined a big cobra.  We got Mama and a stick, and we opened the mailbox, going around behind it to see what it was.  It was just a turtle.”    

On February 18, 1959, Betty (now in the 8th grade and four days shy of her 14th birthday) and her brothers were finally able to attend Warren County High School with their white classmates.  Not a single white student enrolled for classes until September 1959. 

The September 1959 school year was not a nurturing environment for Betty, but rather a breeding ground for battle.   She had to constantly look over her shoulder and make sure she was never alone.  One day, she crossed to the auditorium by herself only to be raped by three young white male classmates.  Betty passed out during the rape.  When she recovered consciousness, she stood up, rearranged her clothes, went home, placed her clothes in the hamper, and cooked the family meal, not telling anyone. 

       The thought of writing her own memoir did not occur utnil 1989, but was soon pushed to the side until September 11, 2001 when she was laid off after a successful career in management at Rubbermaid and American  Airlines.

       Betty was now in new territorty all over again –her experience of writing was a small one:  she wrote the traditional Christmas play for her church at the age of sixteen; and a 30-page booklet “Freedom Road” about the history of Warren County from 1836 to 1986, which was publsihed in the Shenandoah Valley Historical review.    

         Betty, at age 61, purchased a new computer and a book on writing and delved into the unknown.  The writing, though painful at times, seemed to go smoothly until she came to the chapter of the rape. 

       “It was a very painful experience.  I took my laptop to the closet and wrote the chapter in its entirety from the closet.”
Nine months later the book was complete and ready to be sent to the publisher for print.  The Life Magazine photograph of her fahter, herself, and two brothers had to be decreased by 30% in order for her to use the copyright and make it the jacket cover.

Betty had copies printed for her husband, children, and grandchildren.  The rape still remained a secret that she shared only with Elsa.  Wit, Will, & Walls was published in December 2002, but Betty did not have a copy printed for her mother and father.  Her father passed in May of 2003 and she never told her mother, who has also since passed.  Wit, Will & Walls has sold over 20,000 copies.

Soon she was asked to give speeches of her experiences and was even invited by Virginia Delegate Viola Baskerville to attend a meeting in the Virginia capital.  Unfortunately, an ice storm hit the area so she was not able to drive nor was a taxi able to take her to the airport. 

“I took off walking.  A black girl in a SUV gave me a ride.  When I offered her money she said no.  I gave her an autographed copy of my book.  She e-mailed me and said the same thing (the rape) that happened to you happened to me. And my life was blessed by your story.” 

   Now Betty doesn’t hesitate to tell all of her experiences.  And people are paying attention, including documentary filmmaker Paulette Moore of Moore Films, who produced and directed a documentary on Betty Kilby Fisher.  Betty suggested to Moore that she hire her granddaughter Tanesia Fisher to portray her in the film.

“My granddaguhter had read the book four times and each time she has had to do some kind of paper.  She asked some really good quesitons.  She had a really good understanding – in dance, music, very poised and very mature.   Paulette said she still wanted  a profesional actress but that she would talk to Tanesia.  After she talked to Tanesia, she called me and said, “You were absolutely right.’” 

The film debued in February of 2007; but the film was only half of the debue – Betty Kilber Fisher Baldwin stood next to Phoebe Kilby, a white woman who read Bertty’s book and realized that her white family once owned Betty’s family. Phoebe contacted Betty the previous month on Martin Luther King Jr Day in 2007.

“I was able to say I was not only celebrating Marin Luther King Jr Day that one day sons and daughters of former slaves and former slave holders will come to the table of brotherhood; I was (also) able to say that I was celebratring that my family and my slave owning family are sitting at the table of brotherhood. It was very emotional and very impactful.”

Betty and Phoebe consider each other cousins and now travel throughout the country, telling their story to whomever is willing to listen.

         “We tell the story of the little black girl who struggled to get an education and the story of the little white girl who was born into privilege.  And now we come together to sit at the table so we invite others to come to the table as a way of healing our nation; because we believe that if we can all sit down and just lay everything out on the table that we can truly make this world a better place.”

PHOTO DESCRIPTION AND COPYRIGHT INFO
Photo 1
Warren County Court Hall in September 1958.
Photo made available by Betty Kilby Fisher Baldwin.

Photo 2
Busing for African American Students from Warren County all the way to Clarke County.
Photo made available by Betty Kilby Fisher Baldwin.

Photo 3
Federal Judge John Paul Jr. 
Public Domain.

Photo 4
Chief Judge Simon E. Sobeloff. 
Public Domain

Photo 5
James Kilby and three older children

Photo 5
Virginia Governor James Lindsay Almond Jr. 
Public Domain

Photo 6
September 222, 1958 issue of Time Magazine featuring Virginia Governor James Lindsay Almond Jr on its cover.

Photo 7
On May 17, 1954, these men, members of the U.S. Supreme Court, ruled unanimously that racial segregation in public schools is unconstitutional.  Photo taken on December 14, 1953
The members of the Warren Court, taken in 1953. Back row (left to right): Tom Clark, Robert H. Jackson, Harold Burton, and Sherman Minton. Front row (left to right): Felix Frankfurter, Hugo Black, Chief Justice Earl Warren, Stanley Reed, and William O. Douglas
Public Domain

Photo 8
Jacket cover of Witt, Will, & Walls.

Photo 9
Betty in her Sunday School dress on September 15, 1958.

Photo 10a
Police guard protecting the 23 students at Warren County High School in 1959.
Photo made available by Betty Kilby Fisher Baldwin.

Photo 10b
In “Wit, Will and Walls,” a tearful Betty Kilby Fisher recalls her father, played by Theodore Snead, praying outside, asking for divine guidance after losing a court battle to retain land he had been promised by a landlord. That loss compelled Kilby to seek a better education for his children than he felt he had received.
Copyright granted by Paulette Moore.

Photo 11

Photo 12
Betty and James Kilby on September 15, 1958 at their farm.

Photo 13
KKK burning crosses in Denver, Colorado 1921.  Public Domain.

Photo 14
Some of the 23 students walking to Warren County High School.
Photo made available by Betty Kilby Fisher Baldwin.

Photo 15
Warren County High School. 
Public Domain

Photo 16
Tanesia Fisher portraying her grandmother Betty Kilby Fishher Baldwin in the documentary by Paulette Moore.
Copyright granted by Paulette Moore.

Photo 17
Betty Kilby Fisher Baldwin. 
Copyright granted by Betty Kilby Fisher Baldwin.

Photo 18
Betty Kilby Fisher Baldwin.
Copyright granted by Betty Kilby Fisher Baldwin.

Photo 19
Tanesia Fisher portraying her grandmother Betty Kilby Fishher Baldwin in the documentary by Paulette Moore.
Copyright granted by Paulette Moore.

Photo 21
Jacket cover of Wit, Will & Walls

Photo 22
Betty Kilby Fisher Baldwin in 2002.
Copyright granted by Betty Kilby Fisher Baldwin.

Photo 23
Virginia Delegate Viola Baskerville
Public Domain

Photo 24
Paulette Moore Films website logo and contact info

Photo 25
Paulette Moore.
Copyright granted by Paulette Moore

Photo 26
Tanesia Fisher portraying her grandmother Betty Kilby Fisher Baldwin in the documentary by Paulette Moore.
Copyright granted by Paulette Moore.

Photo 27
Betty, Phoebe, James on the day they first met.
Copyright granted by Betty Kilby Fisher Baldwin.

Photo 28.
Betty and Phoebe Kilby.
Copyright granted by Betty Kilby Fisher Baldwin.

Photo 29
Martin Luther King Jr. delivering his “I Have A Dream” speech.
Public Domain. 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Poet CCB III on "“The Draw of Broken Eyes & Whirling Metaphysics” and "The Tithe Of Sadness And Happiness"


Guest Blogger
Charles Clifford Brooks:
A Poet’s Tithe


I stand firmly against the obsessive-compulsive undercurrent on all social media sites where disconnected gents and lassies puke up gooey-sweet rehashings of “The Notebook” and/or regular bulletins so depressing that Facebook sends you a hanky after you suffer them.



All of you must have come across someone here and wondered, “Sweet Jesus, sugar, do you keep anything to yourself?” God bless them, but they have priests for that sort of thing. Of course, I think I’m about to leap onto that soap opera set, but let me try and paint a back door here instead of me into a corner:



There are events, a bundle or a series perhaps, where once upon a time I’d throw their memory into a journal and toss it, once full, into a cardboard box. I never go back in there and read those things. I remember the lesson, but the details often develop barbs that won’t let me rest. I’ve found it best to let those demons have their space.



However, these days, a world wrapped around blogs, if I am to move in that direction – why not share something that may dabble in both the literary transgressions listed above, but not too far? I figure if I rig these scats like I write poetry (honest without melodrama or plea for forgiveness) they won’t be a soulful set of nails down a chalkboard. If this sticks against the wall, I’ll move it to my sorely neglected website.



I don’t play a character. I’m all out, all day. I don’t make that seem like a virtue or sacrifice on my part. People either love me to pieces, or throw dice to see who can push me in front of a train first. The only masks I wear help remind me to talk slower, move slower, relax the tense flesh of my Hyde let out more than I’d like to admit. I pray more than I misbehave, but I’m aces at ambiguous. I love hard, but I hurt feelings hard, too.



A lady a few years ago told me it was worth loving me for my wisdom alone. This year a woman admitted that loving me is carnage. I made a college affair laugh so hard I remember how she’d snort before a full howl. Another one got a tattoo after me to make sure she never forgot a monster could come in any package. If you hear a blues riff here – stop. If you think this is a rock-and-roll call to arms – trust me, I’m not that cool. I am no more or less unique than anyone else.



In the past, struggling with intense mood swings, I tried to lash back the want to rush ahead from roughly this time of year (early March) to the Thanksgiving season.  I don’t cry about this, because over the nearly 39 years I’ve spent on this earth I’ve learned to focus it into my literary career, teaching job, exercise, radio show, and literary groups that include their own list of furious pursuits.



Instead of anxiety, I stay busy. Instead of panic, I bite into lighting and ride it until my hair catches on fire. December and January find me in a cave beneath myself where The Nothing swallows every available source of light.



If you hear any song by the Cure at this point – cut it out. The sorrow is a pick to the sternum, but the good times – the good times people offer me money to write down and provide in a book format. This, again, isn’t bragging. I don’t have kids. I’m not married. I’m not dating anyone serious.



I am doing exactly what I want to do for the first time in my life. My home is quiet. My friends are quality folk. I can go, do, lift, throw, write, scream, sing, dance whenever and where ever it strikes me to do so. My hours are my own. I do not close the door to the slow swell of affection, but I realize now that the pace, and daily schedule, have to be dripped into another’s life slowly – otherwise, it’s a ton of bricks dropped by the gods on an innocent for no good reason.



I cannot be in a malaise about reaffirming that I’m simply too busy to buckle down, but I am not a cliché. In any other business, if “business” got in the way of a social life, it would be scowled upon if that individual gave up the prosperity of a job well done for trivia played every Thursday night. Yet, if an artist does it, it’s seen as a self-fulfilling prophesy of artistic greatness peppered with financial misery. I think that is bullshit. I don’t work for free. It ain’t all about the money, but money ain’t bad, brothers and sisters. Indeed, “quality is the key”, but you don’t have to give it away for free.



My first book, “The Draw of Broken Eyes & Whirling Metaphysics” is still going strong. I meet people often, from all walks of life (some have never liked poetry before) that tell me my book brought something new to their personal perspective. It is humbling and surreal, but I won’t bow my head in shame to say that I did have to go off the grid, and into some rough places, to get it on the page. It was a necessary exile.



Midway upon the journey of our life/I found myself within a forest dark,/For the straightforward pathway had been lost. (If you have to look any farther than Dante, you didn’t study Dante enough.)



Now riding the writing Pegasus hard again, I am finishing my next volume, “Athena Departs”. Without it being the reason for this sequel’s creation, it is a book of songs as Clifford Brooks - a man. I am more aware of myself. I take more responsibility for the Hell I leave in my wake and Heaven I share with those I let through the minefield of my mind.



I am firmly ensconced in the fact God has me against His chest when I’m talking like a machine gun, and closer when I finally fall asleep – so tired sometimes I crash sitting in my car outside Wal-Mart. Is it the healthiest path? No. I think Buddhism appeals to me so thoroughly because it is hinged on the one thing that has stabbed me staggering across the finish line when the sane variety would’ve turned back long before. This same lack has left me in front of a mirror, staring at a sunken face, solitary, cut off, self-conscious – wondering aloud (because when you’re kind of going crazy from anguish you tend to talk aloud to yourself), “What the fuck have I done?”


What I’m missing, of course, is balance. I wouldn’t know moderation if it took me to dinner and sexed me up so good I made breakfast for the first time. Yet, I think that when I calm down before I teach class; when I teach and see eyes light up, excited about The Reconstruction, pronouns, economics, the impeachment process – I taste what it’s like to be even keel. I think it is the most romantic thing I’ve ever, nearly experienced. I will try harder to keep it near my skin next time. Someday I’ll wrap up in it and take a deep breath that lets me cry without shaking apart. That isn’t today.



Today I have an editor for “Athena Departs” who has taken something I already felt tranquil to create and put the hope for it on steroids. Not only is he a scholar, but he takes my 1am phone calls lit up because I’ve figured out how to weave a Southern boy into the story of Orpheus. Another man-of-mention is the co-host of Dante’s Old South who offered me this whole radio program idea out of goodwill and I, in turn, took him across the threshold of the reality I bring to the dreams so many others drunkenly declare then next-morning-forget. The Southern Collective Experience was an idea I pulled together to not only provide the best, the genuine, the kind, the funny, the brilliant a place of solace and escape from a world that isn’t often wired right, but a safe place (selfishly) for me. The Last Ancients offered me another place to be the gaunt, disheveled reveler while reminding me to best hear someone it’s best to turn off the stereo and shut down that laptop.



A friend took me on to learn the basics of assisting his sharp surveyor’s occupation. It is fascinating. It is math for artists. He said, “This is an art that’s precise, but not exact”. I get that. That resonates in me like Motown.



Thing is, without needing to build a resolve, I realized when I found myself alone again, the resolve had settled in without my knowing. There’s too much going on, too many blessing singing around my brow, so much love from people I’m humbled to hang around – I cannot stop to tithe sadness. Sometimes it’s not about taking more medication, more often it’s about growing a pair and being man enough to admit you’ve fucked up (in leaving a ten-year government job, a marriage, a chance at fatherhood, providing a much calmer life for my parents), but when you didn’t (like all these things I’ve just mentioned) – when you prove you were right, when you don’t have to shove it down any throats or brag to by-standards, admitting you have a long way to go and don’t know everything – in that, in that precious reward for surviving crippling doubt – well, then everything’s gonna be good.



Everything is gonna be good. I am grateful for this and the sun feels wonderful. It’s just life. Good. Bad. Love. Discontent. For all of these there is a song. There is a song because someone else flourished in the face of a maelstrom. So will I, and so will you.



The Transparent Mess of an Unbalanced Man

There isn’t shelf space between my books
for stories without the kind of armor
hardened against whistling arrows. No womb, this room,
that lacks the zygote and transparent mess
of a more balanced man.
Yet, in time,
it won't.

Often the act of creation
has no open face,
no warm arms,
no laugh.
Yet, the one I erect today
will.

*Poem by Charles Clifford Brooks III
*Printed with permission from Charles Clifford Brooks III


Charles Clifford Brooks III, author of this post "The Tithe of Sadness and Happiness" and "The Draw of Broken Eyes & Whirling Metaphysics", is a teacher, freelance writer, poet, and radio host who lives in Jasper, Georgia.  He is a member of two groups of amazing artists:  The Southern Collective Experience and The Last Ancients.  Currently, Clifford is in the process of polishing his second collection of poetry, "Athena Departs", with his editor and good friend J.D. Isip.



Photo Description and Copyright Information

Photo 1
Charles Clifford Brooks. 
Attributed to Matthew Polsfuss. 
Copyright by Charles Clifford Brooks.

Photo 2
Movie  of “The Notebook” by Nicholas Sparks.
Fair Use Under the United States Copyright Law.

Photo 3
A door with typical door furniture; a letterbox, doorknocker, a latch, and two locks.
Attributed to Dave and Lynn Slater.
CCA2.0 Generic license.

Photo 4
Charles Clifford Brooks in Jasper, Georgia. 
Attributed to Manda Moffitt. 
Copyright by Charles Clifford Brooks. 

Photo 5
Charles Clifford Brooks and a verse from his next book “Athena Departs.” 
Attributed to photographer Aisha Cleapor
Copyright by Charles Clifford Brooks.

Photo 6
Charles Clifford Brooks and a verse from his book “Athena Departs”
Attributed to photographer Aisha Cleapor
Design by Ezra Letra
Copyright by Charles Clifford Brooks.

Photo 7
Verse by Charles Clifford Brooks. 
Attributed to design artist Holly Holt.
Copyright by Charles Clifford Brooks.

Photo 8
Charles Clifford Brooks hosting his radio show. 
Attributed to Matt Youngblood 
Copyright by Charles Clifford Brooks.

Photo 9
Charles Clifford Brooks at Copper Mines.
Attributed to Aisha Cleapor
Copyright by Charles Clifford Brooks.

Photo 10
The Cure performing in Singapore on August 1, 2007 
Attributed to Momento Mori from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
CCA2.0 Generic

Photo 11
Charles Clifford Brooks writing.
Attributed to Aisha Clapper
Copyright by Charles Clifford Brooks

Photo 12
Charles Clifford Brooks
Attributed to Manda Moffitt
Copyright by Charles Clifford Brooks

Photo 13
Jacket cover of “The Draw of Broken Eyes & Whirling Metaphysics” by Charles Clifford Brooks.
Publisher, John Gosselee Books

Photo 14
Dante Alighieri’s portrait by Sandro Botticelli.
Public Domain.

Photo 15
Bellerophon riding Pegasus.
Attributed to Mary Hamilton Fry form her book “Myths Every Child Should Know” in 1914.
Public Domain.

Photo 16
A line of poetry from “The Draw of Broken Eyes & Whirling Metaphysics” by Charles Clifford Brooks.
Attributed to design artist Holly Holt.
Copyright by Charles Clifford Brooks.

Photo 17
Line of poetry by Charles Clifford Brooks.
Attributed to design artist Holly Holt.
Copyright by Charles Clifford Brooks.

Photo 18
Charles Clifford Brooks.
Attributed to Aisha Cleapor
Copyright by Charles Clifford Brooks.

Photo 19
Line of poetry by Charles Clifford Brooks.
Attributed to design artist Holly Holt.
Copyright by Charles Clifford Brooks. 

Photo 20
Charles Clifford Brooks.
Attributed to Elton Porter
Copyright by Charles Clifford Brooks.

Photo 21
Kristofer Conklin reading “The Draw of Broken Eyes & Whirling Metaphysics” by Charles Clifford Brooks in California.  
Attributed to Kristofer Conklin.
Copyright by Charles Clifford Brooks.