Lake Norman & Mooresville

Reflections offer portrait of student activism

When Joe Howell was a senior at Davidson College in 1964, he led a march through downtown Charlotte in support of the soon-to-be Civil Rights Act.

The mayor at the time warned against it. So did Davidson College's president.

"I was a bit of a notorious villain for a period," Howell said. "But I did what I thought was right."

He remembers how it was raining the day he and about 500 other young adults marched from Johnson C. Smith University to the post office to mail a letter in support of the bill to Capitol Hill.

"It was good in a way because it kept away people who may have become violent," Howell said. "It wasn't a big deal in terms of history, but it did bring the issue of race to the forefront of a lot of people's minds."

Nearly 50 years later, Howell recently published a diary he kept during that tumultuous chapter of U.S. history.

"I think I must have realized that what we were doing would be of interest at some point," said Howell, now 69. "There were a lot of struggles at that time."

Howell had long forgotten about his diary when his wife, Embry Howell, found it while cleaning out the attic a few years ago.

But after reading it and getting feedback from friends and colleagues, Joe decided to publish it.

"We realized it wasn't just for the family, which was what I originally planned," said Embry, 66.

"(One of my colleagues) shared it with her professor at Stanford, who said it had a lot of value historically. That's when we started talking about the possibility of getting it published and read more widely."

The book, which includes Joe Howell's diary as well as his recent memoir, describes his time at Davidson College as well as his work for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in Georgia.

Around the time the committee sent Joe Howell to Georgia, he said there was a dramatic shift within the movement as the slogan "Black Power" gained strength.

"When we arrived in Georgia in June 1966, we were not greeted by the civil rights workers with any enthusiasm," he said. "The whole role of white people was being questioned."

Joe Howell's book, "Civil Rights Journey," is available in paperback and hardback on several websites, including Amazon.com and BarnesAndNoble.com.

He believes the book will be appealing to all ages - not just because of its historical content but because of its universal themes.

"It has to do with injustice. In our time it was a race issue, but we still live in a world where there are all kinds of injustices, like economic injustice," he said.

"The world is not a perfect place. What you do about it and how you change it are issues that are just as present today."

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