When Charles Sherrod expanded SNCC’s voter registration efforts into “the rurals” of Southwest Georgia in 1962, Mrs. Carolyn Daniels, then a 33-year-old single mother, took them in. She lived and owned a beauty shop in Dawson, the county seat of Terrell County, nicknamed “Terrible Terrell.” From the beginning of this work, she stood up to an onslaught of harassment and terror from white vigilantes. The unwavering support of local people, like Mrs. Daniels, was the foundation on which SNCC’s grassroots work rested everywhere in the South.
Carolyn Daniels’ son, Roy, a student at Carver High School, brought his mother into the Movement. It started when he asked if Charles Sherrod, director of SNCC’s Southwest Georgia project, could stay at their house for a few nights, and the two pressed Daniels to hold a meeting at her church, ATOC A.M.E. Then Roy brought a woman to the Terrell County courthouse to try and register, and he was attacked and beaten by Sheriff Z.T. Matthews. That was the day Mrs. Daniels became a movement stalwart. “The thing I couldn’t get over was that Roy was just a youngster who didn’t bother anybody, yet he couldn’t go into the courthouse, a public building without the sheriff slapping and kicking him. And I was a taxpayer.” Like SNCC organizers witnessed time and again, when young people got involved, their parents and the community followed.
Being a beautician and owning her own shop gave Mrs. Daniels independence. She had first bought land in Dawson, then built her shop, and when she had earned enough from doing hair, she built her own house. “Since I owned my own home and business,” she explained, “I was free to do what I chose.”
Carolyn Daniels began walking the county’s backroads with Sherrod, urging people to register to vote. At church meetings, she taught people how to fill out voter registration forms; she also organized citizenship classes, supported by SCLC. Although terrorists burned down movement churches in Terrell and neighboring Lee counties during the summer of 1962, Mrs. Daniels continued her voter education classes in makeshift tents.
In September 1962, night riders fired shots into Daniels’ two-bedroom home. They wounded Jack Chatfield, a white northern volunteer, who had been in Southwest Georgia for all of two days. Mrs. Daniels continued welcoming SNCC volunteers. Prathia Hall remembered the house being filled wall-to-wall with people, and Daniels was “undisturbed by the perpetual disarray and elevated noise level of the students waging philosophical debates, holding serious strategy sessions, and their general, youthful clowning.” Daniels would lend her red and white Chevy Impala to SNCC workers, so they could drive people to the courthouse.
Attacks against her and the Movement continued. On the night of December 8, 1963, Daniels, while lying in her bed, heard a car door slam and footsteps. Then shots shattered her bedroom windows, and a bomb rolled under the bed but failed to detonate. Daniels went to the hospital to attend to her injured foot. When she came back, her house was gone. The bomb had gone off while she was out.
But Carolyn Daniels rebuilt her home and continued on. “Sherrod and the SNCC workers continued to use my house,” she said, “and we just kept going, we just kept going.”
Clayborne Carson, In Struggle: SNCC and the Black Awakening of the 1960s (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1981).
Carolyn Daniels, “We Just Kept Going,” Hands on the Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts by Women in SNCC, edited by Faith Holsaert, et al. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2010), 152 – 156.
Wesley Hogan, Many Minds, One Heart: SNCC’s Dream for a New America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007).