Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Anne Braden, civil rights warrior, dies

Anne Braden (1924 - 2006)

Anne and Carl Braden, cofounders of the Southern Conference Educational Fund, Inc. (SCEF) of New Orleans, were often the focus of government interest. As two of the most active and determined white anti-racist crusaders of the 1950s and beyond, the Bradens spent much of their time in the Delta; easily, over a thousand reports regarding both Anne and Carl Braden, as individuals and as a couple, are contained in Sovereignty Commission files. For example:

News article by Ann Braden reporting on theft of records by U. S. Senator James O. Eastland

45-page document, claims Bradens are Communists

"Proposed Statement" to be made by U. S. Senator James O. Eastland against the Bradens

SCEF grew out of the Southern Conference on Human Welfare (S”CHW), a New Deal organization formed in 1938 “based on a vision of a new democratic south that would be built jointly by black and white people.” Supporters included Eleanor Roosevelt. In 1948, SCEF was formed as its tax-exempt educational arm and later took over when SCHW closed down. SCEF raised funds for black activists, lobbied for Truman’s civil rights proposals and tried to educate southern whites on racism.

Frequently the Bradens were labeled as “Communists” by Mississippi’s segregationist leaders because of their ties to SCEF and to a liberal retreat center in Tennessee, The Highlander Center (also attended by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and many others in the civil rights movement). Julian Bond referred to them as “modern abolitionists.”

The Bradens

Their troubles began in 1954 when the couple purchased a house in a segregated area of Louisville, Kentucky for an African American family. Local racists targeted the house and burned a cross in the front yard. The house was finally destroyed in a bomb blast. The criminals were never brought to trial; instead, they and several other anti-racist activists were accused of conspiring in a Communist plot against the state.

Carl Braden received a fifteen-year prison sentence for sedition, a sentence that the U. S. Supreme Court overturned within months. “The unique thing about the Cold War in the South was that [fighting it] was inextricably tied to the battle against white supremacy,” Anne Braden told author Catherine Fosl. “That was the reason for all the hysteria against us in Louisville. It was anti-red and anti-black hysteria wrapped up and thrown at us.”

SCEF became a nurturing force behind the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), providing it with funding, mailing lists, and access to major Northern donors. The Bradens were active in the Delta and often linked to Amzie Moore, who once received a loan from SCEF with their assistance, to save his business and home while personally supporting civil rights activists.

Activists like the Bradens were frequently summoned to testify about their "disloyal" activities before the infamous House Committee on Un-American Activities Committee or before SISS. As a result, some activists left the movement altogether while others continued to work for equality despite the false charges and terrorism they faced coming from their own government and fellow citizens.

(From "Where Rebels Roost, Mississippi Civil Rights Revisited." This book is now available online. Click here to read all chapters.)

Anne Braden died today, March 7, 2006, from pneumonia. Tributes to this civil rights warrior are posted on the website of the Civil Rights Movement veterans.

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