Dispatches from front lines of civil rights movement

Staff reports

The story of two white Southern pioneers for civil rights during the mid-1960s in the South will be recounted on Saturday, June 18 at the Presbyterian Heritage Center in Montreat.

Joe and Embry Howell will lecture at 2 p.m. on their book, "Civil Rights Journey: The Story of a White Southerner Coming of Age during the Civil Rights Revolution," with a reception and book signing at 3 p.m. Their appearance is part of an ongoing civil rights exhibit at the Presbyterian Heritage Center, located at 318 Georgia Terrace in Montreat. For more, call the center at 669-6556.

Disdained by whites, humiliated by black leadership, Joe Howell, with wife Embry, will talk June 18 in Montreat about his struggles in the early civil rights movement.

The book is based on the diary Joe Howell kept when the couple was working in the civil rights movement in southwest Georgia in 1966.

“He takes us on a journey to rural Georgia at the height of the civil rights movement and the rise of black power," Mark R. Warren of Harvard University wrote. "His account of his struggles to work with black activists to make change in communities deeply marred by entrenched issues of racism and social injustice is honest and passionate.

"Through Howell's fresh and complex narrative, we come to a rich understanding of the vital role white people can play in racial justice movements and the complex terrain they enter as they struggle to build new kinds of relationships with black activists and with ‘regular folks.’ These issues remain compelling today.”

The diary details “a summer of confusion and inept leadership taking on the monumental problems that faced an oppressed black population in the area,"   UNC-TV’s "North Carolina Bookwatch" host D. G. Martin, wrote of the book. "And it meant an adjustment of attitudes by the Howells as they worked for an organization and people who viewed whites as the enemy. Howell’s diary records his humiliation under the SNCC leadership on the same pages he describes the humiliations of the local blacks under the oppressive white power structure. It is a moving and well-told personal story, but, more importantly, an insider’s record of an often-overlooked part of the civil rights revolution.”

Joe Howell went on to work as a consultant in the development of affordable and senior housing. He also taught at the George Washington University and the University of Maryland. He lives in Washington, D.C. with his wife, Embry, a health policy researcher at the Urban Institute.

The Presbyterian Heritage Center is a nonprofit educational organization providing museum exhibits, a reference library and special events on the history of Montreat, worldwide missions and the heritage of the Reformed and Presbyterian churches.

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