This image is of Peggy (R), then a 19 year-old SNCC member, next to future civil rights icon, Dr. Dorothy Cotton (L), after a 1962 church burning in Georgia—the state that Peggy's great-great grandparents, William & Ellen Craft, famously escaped from slavery nearly 115 years earlier...
Peggy Trotter Dammond Preacely
Dr. Dorothy Cotton
Now that all eyes are on Georgia for the U.S. Senate runoff on Tuesday, January 5, 2021, until then my poems will be those I wrote as a young college student, while I was working in SNCC to register eligible African-American residents in—Southwest Georgia! Being based in Lee County, Georgia at that time was also poignant for me, as the great-great granddaughter of William and Ellen Craft, who'd famously escaped from their enslavement in Macon, Georgia. I hope over the next several weeks these poems—that I'm collectively calling the "Georgia On Our Minds" series—will give you an inside look into what we were confronting at that time, which unfortunately continues to rear its ugly head again—voter suppression with a heaping helping of racism. I implore everyone who has family or friends in Georgia to encourage them to vote on January 5, or before once early voting opens up. The health of our democracy depends on it... My first poem is called "Summer of 62," ironic since the photo on this page is Dr. Dorothy Cotton and me after a church burning in 1962, where SNCC had been teaching voter education...
S U M M E R O F '62
by Peggy Trotter Dammond Preacely
What we had were our hands to chop the cotton
we had never even seen before.
I drove a tractor and got my first driver’s license
in a rural Georgia corn field.
Who would ever believe me?
We grouped and organized to walk the back roads.
Georgia heat so flattening…
A struggle to stand or speak.
Sun like a metal beam…its rays pinging
down on us like slivers of day-lightening
Sheriff cars following us...
so very frightening.
We ran to our porch sanctuaries for fans and hot lemonade.
Dust in our hair.
Fear in the air.
No phone to home.
And yet we stayed
and more of us came…
and kept on coming...
the clarion call, and constant drumming.
When we finally slept stretched out and intertwined on floors and sofas
in the homes of those who sheltered us—risked their lives to shelter us—
it was with the fatigue of an innocence...no one would ever believe.
How were we supposed to talk, talk in this hot hot
about how to vote vote in the churches at night where we taught taught
So they burned burned, the churches down down...
to the very ground...
We stood around...
We stood our ground...
Made loud our sound—
“Let Freedom Ring...Let Hope Abound!”
© 2020 Peggy Trotter Dammond Preacely. All rights reserved.