An ongoing illustrative history study
This piece originally posted 3/10/2023
"Let the people speak for and with you. As you work you must somehow resist the temptation to do things for the people, but share the work, the planning and the decision-making with them, so they realize that if the center is to continue after summer, they will have to do it."
Born in 1932 Georgia, Annell Ponder steps up as yet another teacher, and in more ways than one. Having earned her Bachelor's degree in education at Clark College and then a Master's in social work from Atlanta University, Annell then threw herself wholeheartedly into the mission of SCLC in 1962. Having absorbed the Citizenship Schools curricula of her fellow educator Bernice Robinson (see Lesson #118 in this series), Annell became a familiar face at the Greenwood office, enthusiastically enlisting volunteers with her dynamic personality and striking good looks. Eventually she became the director of the Citizenship Education Program for SCLC in Mississippi.
On June 9, 1963 (just three days before Medgar Evers would be murdered), Ponder and several of her fellow SNCC activists, including Fannie Lou Hamer (see Lesson #51 in this series), were returning by bus from a Citizenship School training session in South Carolina. They arrived in Winona, Mississippi to changes buses and pointedly sat down to eat at a segregated Trailways bus station. When police arrived --having been tipped off by the bus driver ahead of time-- Ponder attempted to record license plates and was promptly arrested, where she and her colleagues were severely beaten in jail over the course of the next three days. Hamer, who herself was left permanently injured, described overhearing Annell's beatings in particularly gruesome terms --in particular the dull thud Ponder's body made hitting the floor when she quietly refused to address a police officer as "sir" and instead offered to pray for him. Ponder's face was bruised almost beyond recognition, and while the Justice Department eventually brought charges against the abusing officers, and all-white jury voted to acquit. Read the full disturbing account in an affidavit by Ponder here: https://www.crmvet.org/tim/timhis63.htm#1963winona
Later in 1964 Annell committed to the newly-formed Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) along with Hamer, but then slipped into relative obscurity as a teacher, librarian, and social worker. Ponder's story was conspicuously name-checked by President Biden in his speech at the Atlanta University Center Consortium in Atlanta, Georgia on January 11, 2022. The photograph which I have used as a reference for this watercolour/pen-and-ink illustration, is taken from a well-known photo of Ponder holding an umbrella at Martin Luther King, Jr's funeral in 1968. Photo by Builder Levy, from the Chrysler Museum of Art collection.
View the accumulated collection of Annell Ponder's papers and associated CORE correspondence at the Civil Rights Digital Library.
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