Southern Organizing Committee for Racial and Economic Justice
Heather Gray served on the board of the Southern Organizing Committee for Racial and Economic Justice that Anne Braden co-chaired along with Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth. The organization " was one of the few that provided the opportunity for us to think and act regionally and to make the essential connections of the myriad of issues we faced. From the 1980’s and on the meetings were always filled with a diversity of black, white and eventually Latino activists in the region".
- We would sit for hours in New Orleans, Montgomery or Birmingham to strategize on various issues, activities and mistakes we’ve made then and in the past. We would also listen, learn and occasionally join in while the legendary leaders in our midst discussed and analyzed the dynamics of white supremacy, racial politics generally and labor challenges in the South. Anne was never without offering a lengthy epistle about anything until the wee hours of the night along with her ever-present cigarettes! These sessions were often both grueling and enlightening. They were not only a history lesson but also a socialization process into the tactics of southern civil rights activism and Anne understood the importance of this. She wanted to pass this information on to all of us and to keep the momentum going at every conceivable juncture. The meetings were a roll call of southern leaders and activists the likes of Reverend C. T. Vivian, Jack O'Dell, Gwen Patton, Virginia Durr, Reverend Fred Taylor, Reverend James Orange, Connie Tucker, John Zippert, Jackie Ward, Reverend Benjamin Chavis, Charlie Orrock, Ann Romaine, Damu Smith, Jim Dunn, Judy Hand, Scott Douglas, Ron Chisholm, Spiver Gordon, Pat Bryant, Tirso Moreno and countless others.
Vote fraud conviction
Civil rights worker Spiver Gordon became the first person convicted in a government vote fraud case and angry black leaders charged an all-white jury was 'held hostage' by a federal judge.
The jury broke a five-day deadlock late Wednesday and convicted Gordon of two counts of mail fraud and two counts of providing false information to election officials. He was accused of altering absentee ballots in the September 1984 Democratic primary.
'There is no question but that the case will be appealed,' said defense attorney J L Chestnut. 'I have never seen a trial record that cries out more loudly for appeal.'
U.S. District Judge E.B. Haltom Jr. refused repeatedly to grant a mistrial when the jury began struggling with the case . When jurors found Gordon innocent on nine counts and told Haltom they were 'hopelessly deadlocked' on 12 remaining charges, he ordered them to continue.
When the jury returned the guilty verdicts Wednesday -- but with a recommendation for clemency -- Haltom told them that was not their decision and ordered them back to the jury room to make sure they would stand by the verdicts.
'In this case it is my considered judgment that the court went too far,' Chestnut said. 'I bleed for Mr. Gordon, for the jury and for the system. All three have suffered this week.'
Gordon, 46, an officer of the Atlanta-based Southern Christian Leadership Conference, said he was 'as innocent as I was when I walked in the courtroom on day one. The court has spoken, but almighty God has not spoken.'
Gordon will remain free on bond pending his sentencing Nov. 14. He faces a maximum five years in prison and $10,000 fine on each count.
'This judge held the jury hostage,' said SCLC President Joseph Lowery. 'I think it's interesting that the Justice Department had to get an all-white jury and a judge who would keep the jury for five days in order to get a conviction.'
The federal probe of the September 1984 Democratic primaries in west-central Alabama's 'Black Belt' has been denounced by national black leaders as a 'witchhunt' to intimidate black voters and weaken minority political power in the South.
Gordon was acquitted on five other counts Wednesday and Haltom agreed to grant a mistrial on three counts that remained undecided - conspiracy, mail fraud and a charge of voting more than once.
Gordon was one of the eight people indicted in the case that until this week had produced only acquittals and mistrials.
Earlier this week, Bessie Jones Underwood, 31, of Eutaw struck a plea bargain in which 24 counts were dropped for a guilty plea to a misdemeanor charge of improperly casting absentee ballots. She received two years' probation.