Joan C. Browning and her cavachon Gabriel.
Joan C. Browning is a writer and lecturer who lives in a double wide mobile home on a hillside in West Virginia with her puppy Gabriel and cat Agape. Her autobiographical writings include an article published in the Fall 1996 Journal of Women’s History, “Invisible Revolutionaries: White Women in Civil Rights Movement Historiography” and “Shiloh Witness,” published in Curry, Browning, et. al., Deep in Our Hearts: Nine White Women in the Freedom Movement (University of Georgia Press, 2000). Browning writes and lectures about growing up four miles from one of the South’s most rabid racist politicians and about finding her way into the 1960’s civil rights movement in the Deep South.
Joan’s first podium was a table and her first audience the family’s chickens. As the oldest daughter in a family that grew to eight children, Joan already felt the urge to include everybody. When she was in the third grade, about 9 years of age, Joan C. Browning learned that she was named for sisters – Joan Bennett and Constance Bennett, movie actors. By then she liked being named Joan but did not want to exclude Constance. Joan’s mother suggested a middle initial, and thus began the “Joan C. Browning” identity. Joan was born at Shiloh, a community in Wheeler County, Georgia, that consisted of the Shiloh Methodist Church and cemetery, four residences, and a “jot’em down” store with one gas pump that also served as the post office.
As Joan enters her computer room to write, she faces two images over the copy machine. The “Wild Man from Sugar Creek”, Eugene Talmadge, and his son Herman Talmadge rivaled George Wallace and their cousin Strom Thurmond as powerful and vicious racists. The Talmadge plantation was four miles from the farm in Telfair County, Georgia that Joan’s parents bought when she was about five years old. This photograph illustrates the Talmadge political allies.
The Talmadges and the handful of white men who ran Georgia insisted on separation of white and colored peoples, with signs like this:
They neglected to post this sign over Milledgeville, Georgia’s Wesley Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church, however. Georgia State College for Women’s president Robert E. Lee and his staff were so distressed that Joan worshipped there that they revoked her scholarships and forced her to leave.
At the age of 18 with one quarter of her junior year completed, Joan moved to Atlanta, got a job at Emory University’s Candler Library, and found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating committee – and Ms. Ella Josephine Baker, whose image greets her each morning over the copy machine. At about the time that this Talmadge campaign event, Ms. Baker noted in her correspondence as membership director for the national Association for the Advancement of Colored People that Telfair County is a mean place, “where they do not allow Negroes to vote.”
Joan participated in the sit-in movement, picketed segregated stores and facilities, and was on the Albany Freedom Ride on December 10, 1961.
Want to hear more? Contact Joan