A dramatization of Jim Crow, civil rights years in Gainesville

by Pam Smith

On Friday, March 18, at 7 pm, the Cotton Club will present a YouTube dramatization of a rich part of Gainesville’s history—the firsthand experience of eight women, six black and two white, who lived in Gainesville during the Jim Crow and civil rights years. 

In the early 1960s a group of women in Gainesville started Gainesville Women for Equal Rights. At the first meeting, the group’s founders, white women who were predominantly wives of University of Florida professors and who were already working for civil rights for African Americans, invited Black women to come to the meeting and talk about their daily lives. From that first meeting forward, GWER became an integrated group of black and white women working together toward changing the racist culture of Gainesville. It was the first group of its kind in Florida. They had to meet in secret because it was dangerous at the time for black and white people to work together.

In the early 1980s, Dr. Elizabeth Heard, a graduate student at UF at the time, set out to interview as many women from that era as she could. These interviews now live in the Samuel Proctor Oral History Project at UF. She then wrote a play using eight of those women’s actual words.

The Cotton Club Museum and Cultural Center, which is dedicated to preserving the African American experience, is  presenting this play on YouTube on Friday evening, March 18, at 7pm in honor of Women’s History Month. It will be followed by a question and answer period with Ms. Vivian Filer who also lived through those times in Gainesville and Dr. Zoharrah Simmons who was a SNCC volunteer in Georgia, Mississippi, and Louisiana during that time. Both women continue to be very active in the struggle for liberation.

The YouTube link to connect you to the play is: <bit.ly/3GZxqHs.>

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