The song Camilla is about Marion King, an African-American resident of Albany, Georgia, who visited her maid's daughter at the Camilla jail in July of 1962 during the Albany Movement. The young woman had marched in a civil rights demonstration; local authorities arrested her and, due to the overcrowding of area jails by civil rights demonstrators, sent her to an outlying jail. Mrs. King was six months pregnant, and she took her young children with her to visit. Marion King joined a group of visitors outside the jail and started singing with them. I first read about Marion King in Taylor Branch's Parting the Waters:

pp. 615-616
"Irritably, to cut down on the noise and bother, the deputies shooed the waiting visitors away from the fence. All skittered backward except for a woman with two small children, who backed up slowly and silently, seemingly unaware of the commition. Marion King did not move fast enough. Something about her prompted the sheriff and one uniformed deputy to walk briskly outside. "I mean you!" one shouted. King retreated steadily. She had seen Ella Mae in the jail window and did not want to set an example of cowering in fear. A split second later, the sheriff slapped her sharply across the face. Three-year-old Abena went sprawling from her arms to the pavement. One year-old DuBois shrieked. As the sheriff slapped her again, the deputy kicked her in the shins, knocking her feet from beneath her, and then kicked her several times more on the ground."

Marion King soon after miscarried. You can watch television footage of King interviewed in her hospital bed at this link:

Marion King is one of the thousands upon thousands of heroes of the Civil Rights Movement. Unlike many others, she did not die, though her unborn child did. At Marion King's funeral in 2007, Dr. Vincent Harding described her as a 'social midwife', one of the many women and men brave enough to birth a new era. I love that term, and wonder if songwriters, at their best, are such a vehicle. I wrote about Marion King, I suppose, because she was a mother, and because I could watch the television footage of her describing her beating. I also liked writing about another King besides MLK, Jr. There were many. Also, Marion King later went to law school and became and assistant Attorney for the city of Atlanta. That's sort of a happy ending.

When I was a freshman at Ole Miss (the nickname for The University of Mississippi), I lived on the top floor of the twin towers, in the girls' building. On that top floor lived the honors students and the minority students, or at least that's what I saw very clearly as I went to and fro from day to day. That year I also watched all the episodes of Eyes on the Prize at a Civil Rights and Journalism conference on campus. And that fall, for an American History class project, I compared newspaper headlines of the New York Times and Jackson MS Clarion Ledger's coverage of James Meredith's integration of Ole Miss. There was quite a difference in those headlines. The culmination of these three things made me thirsty, at age 18, for more knowledge about the heroes of my region. Taylor Branch's Parting the Waters, given to me by my old girls' camp director, helped. So did David Halberstam's The Children, and many other books.

I would love to write more about the U.S. South Civil Rights movement. Another of the songs on my album Camilla is about Mae Frances Moultrie, one of the original 1961 Freedom Riders who stumbled off a firebombed bus outside of Anniston, Alabama, in a white dress. In this 50th anniversary era of the Civil Rights Movement, I wish more would watch Eyes on the Prize, and read Parting the Waters and The Children, and make a pilgrimage to the areas where heroes stood. That might be quite a trip, though, as heroes stood everywhere.

And they all deserve a song.

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Reader Comments (4)

This was a wonderful and moving piece. It is still shocking to remember that such sanctioned brutality was common in this country not so very long ago. This also reminded me of the summer of my junior year at Princeton when I wrote to all of my classmates seeking funds to support the Freedom Riders, who included several classmates. Got some angry replies from a few of my southern brethren, but the solicitation was quire successful. Still, reading this story it was such a tiny effort, and requiring no particular courage. I guess it was just the best I could do at the time. Maybe if we all did the best that we could every day ...

September 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBeau Carter

Caroline, it was wonderful to see you last night at the Ford Center and have you meet my grandson, Will. Felt like one of those "full circle" moments that we women so readily understand. Love the work you are doing and as always remain a devoted fan. Paula

October 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPaula Shanks

Beau - forgive my late reply. I am with you 100%. It is the small things, that was huge, what you did, as I think complacency is hard to overcome in these busy lives of ours. May we force ourselves to take the small steps, as they do support the big ones. Paula - I was thrilled to see you, as always. I have a special place in my heart for all of your family. We are all journeying, aren't we?

October 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCaroline

Caroline, I'm embarking on a trip to Japan in a few days. I was looking through my old CDs, (yes, I still buy CDs) and happened upon your debut "Twilight." I loaded that up to my iPhone so I would have it for the long plane ride to Tokyo. I'd forgotten how lovely your voice is. I had the good fortune to see you at the Ark in Ann Arbor Michigan several years ago.

I have to say, I'm so moved by your newest record. I've been listening to Camilla for a few days now and find the melodies and the storytelling so compelling. And of course, your voice is something very special. You have an honesty and purity in your singing and songwriting that I haven't heard in a very long time.

I am an American citizen by way of a Canadian birth and my Filipino parents. I often think about what my parents went through. My younger sister was born in Augusta, GA and I remember making the move from the south to Ohio in the late sixties. My parents decided to move because Martin Luther King had been murdered and Atlanta no longer seemed a safe place for my young parents and their three children. Its hard to believe I ever lived in a world where my parents were afraid of the white next door neighbors.

Anyway, I wanted to say keep doing what you're doing. We are the better for it. After I get done with this note to you, I'm going to go to iTunes and buy the rest of your catalog.

August 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterElisa Nicolas

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