This Sunday, we are welcoming a special guest speaker to the pulpit- Joan C. Browning. Browning comes to us as to share her experience in living out the Gospel in her life. She was among the Freedom Riders in 1961 and has continued to fight for Civil Rights throughout her life. We hope you will join us this Sunday, June 18, at 11:00 am, to hear her speak.
Joan C. Browning: Short Biography
Joan C. Browning is one of the 436 individuals who were the Freedom Riders. In 1961, these persons boarded 62 buses and trains and traveled into the Deep South where they were arrested, beaten, and jailed. They succeeded in taking down the “white” and “colored” signs in bus and train terminals and on buses and trains. Joan was on the Albany Freedom Ride of December 10, 1961. On the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Rides, Public Television broadcast a documentary and many organizations and groups honored Freedom Riders. Joan was one of 178 Freedom Riders who appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show and one of 14 women Freedom Riders honored by the National Women’s Law Center at an event where President Barrack Obama asked to meet with the women.
She grew up on a family farm in Telfair County, Georgia. There she worked in tobacco, watermelon, cantaloupe, and vegetable crops and picked one hundred pounds of cotton when she was eleven. The autumn before she went off to college at age 16, she was picking 200 pounds of cotton a day. She moved to Atlanta, got a job in the Emory University Library, and attended Georgia State College of Business Administration. She volunteered with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee on picket lines and sit-in demonstrations and traveled to college campuses. She typed Julian Bond's handwritten press releases onto stencils, made copies and put them into envelopes to go to national newspapers.
With the success of the sit-in and Freedom Ride movements, Joan stayed in Atlanta and worked in social justice and human rights organizations, usually short-term grant funded. At the Southern Regional Council, she worked in the research, labor and prison reform projects. She was administrative assistant in the Southern Office of the American Civil Liberties Union working on legal cases to undo Georgia’s “county unit” system of over-weighting rural votes and on death penalty prevention. At the Southern Regional Office of the National Urban League, she was a trainee supervisor for VISTA volunteers, which led to her being named southeast regional training director of the VISTA training contract held by ABT. She helped the NUL organize a Rural Development Center in response to discrimination against black hurricane victims. She helped organize the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, was the second staff person and wrote the first large grant, a $600,000 research grant from the Office of Economic Opportunity. With the grant in hand, she became the handicraft marketing specialist.
In 1968, she served as Treasurer of Georgians for Robert Kennedy.
West Virginia Institute of Technology persuaded her to come to the state in 1969 to help crafts persons in five coalfield counties with product design, production and marketing. At the end of her year, she recommended that the project be turned over to Florette Angel at the West Virginia Department of Commerce; Florette and First Lady Sharon Rockefeller organized Mountain Artisans, which successfully marketed quilting in women's apparel. Cabin Creek Quilts was the last survivor of that crafts revival.
Moving back to Telfair County to help her mother in the last year of her life, Joan was Day Care Director of the local OEO group. She set up five social security funded day care centers in three counties, staffed and directed 52 employees, and taught Child Day Care for the vocational technical school. Learning about an opportunity for distressed counties to use the social security day care funds for full day county-wide kindergarten, she and a partner wrote grants for 23 counties; most of these were funded, in excess of $6 million dollars a year.
Joan returned to live in Greenbrier County in 1976. She operated a one-woman bookkeeping service until the 1990s when she became a freelance writer. She was deeply involved in local and state volunteer activities centered around public libraries, women's issues, senior services and the local community college.
She completed a B.A. degree in 1994 at West Virginia State College, and completed 1/3rd of a master’s degree in Humanities/History at Marshall University.
West Virginia has expressed its appreciation with numerous awards, including the Governor’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Commission’s “Living the Dream,” the West Virginia Women’s Commission “Mountaineer Spirit,” the Commission on Public Service “Lifetime Achievement” for volunteer service, and the West Virginia University’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Achievement Award. Joan was the BPW/WV’s first recipient of the “Women Mean Business” Business Woman of the Year. West Virginia Living Magazine named her a West Virginia Wonder Woman.
Joan served two five-year terms (10 years) on the first West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals’ Fatality Review Committee; chaired the West Virginia University Center for Women’s Studies Visiting Committee for a decade; and served a term on the West Virginia Human Rights Commission. Locally she served two five-year terms as a Greenbrier County Public Library Trustee, eight years as State Fair of West Virginia Dairy Goat Superintendent, countless years as Greenbrier Junior High School and Greenbrier East High School band booster, was a member of AAUW, BPW, and PEO Chapter O. For thirteen years, she was Development Director and only staff of Greenbrier Community College Foundation, Inc., which gave the community college a debt-free renovated campus valued at $6.5 million. In recent years she has been ordained in the Universal Life Church Monastery and "does a little preaching" including officiating at weddings, funerals and blessing of animals.
Her experiences as a 1960s Freedom Rider and social justice activist are described in “Shiloh Witness,” an autobiographical chapter in the volume Curry, Browning, et. al., Deep In Our Hearts: Nine White Women in the Freedom Movement published by the University of Georgia Press and in her article “Invisible Revolutionaries: White Women in Civil Rights Movement Historiography” in the Fall 1996 Journal of Women's History. An article developed from a speech at the University of Toulouse, France, is published online in the journal Transatlantica as. https://journals.openedition.org/transatlantica/9993 . It is listed as (Hi)Stories of American Women: Writings and Re-writings White Women in the 1960s Freedom Movement, From Memory to History: The writing of “Shiloh Witness,” a chapter in Deep in Our Hearts (2000) Joan Browning.
The "Joan C. Browning Papers," including notes and letters written on paper towels and toilet paper from the Albany jail, are in the Emory University Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library as are the Albany jail notes of Dr .Lenora Taitt-Magabune which includes some notes written from Browning to Freedom Riders Lenora Taitt and Norma Collins.
"When folks say I must be brave to be a Freedom Rider," Browning says, "I reply that I know that I am brave because I have been a honey bee keeper and president of the local Little League Baseball and Softball."