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On this week's Peace of History:
We continue with Marjorie Swann’s story, highlighting a few of the many critically important, and somewhat surprising, relationships that she made along the way.
As mentioned last week, Marj Swann was a charter member of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), and it was perhaps through that organization that she met the anti-war and civil rights organizers Juanita and Wally Nelson. Juanita and Wally helped form the pacifist activist group Peacemakers in 1948, along with Ernest and Marion Bromley. Marj became a committed and passionate member. She remained lifelong friends with the Nelsons and Bromleys, all of whom were war tax resisters.
While Marj and Bob lived in Yellow Springs, Ohio in the 1940s-1950s, Marj met young Antioch student Coretta Scott through their respective activities in the local NAACP chapter. It would be a few years before Coretta would meet Martin and append “King” to her name. These two pacifist women continued their friendship throughout the tumultuous years after.
Marj worked closely with many activists who have become known to various constituencies, including: Anne Braden, renowned white woman who committed herself to fighting racism in the South, with whom Marj worked as another white woman ally of anti-racism and disarmament; and Barbara Deming, notable gay feminist activist-author, who joined the CNVA soon after meeting Marj. As a nonviolence trainer, Marj co-trained with many other activists including Bernard Lafayette, who was one of the student organizers of the Nashville Sit-Ins and who was working with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Many from SCLC, including Bayard Rustin and Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, did workshops with Marj. Together Marj Swann and Barnard Lafayette facilitated a training in Boston attended by Sukie Rice, who was instrumental in creating the nonviolent training and organizing structure for the Clamshell Alliances; and Dick Gregory, comedian-activist with whom Marj fasted for 22 months to protest the continual U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.
Though she built lifelong relationships with so many illustrious individuals in the greater peace and justice movement, Marjorie Swann did not forget about her less-famous neighbors in Voluntown and the surrounding area. To Marj, the struggles for disarmament, anti-racism, poverty relief, land reform, and many other issues were all connected to each other in a continuity of working for peace and justice. Though the Swanns moved from Voluntown in 1971, Marj returned in the 1980s and continued her service work at a local women’s center. Additionally, she offered the Swann House on the VPT property as a safe home for families who had suffered domestic abuse. In 2010, at the age of 90, Marj led the organizing for the 50th anniversary of CNVA, bringing together folks who had been active with CNVA in the early days, including Gene Sharp, known for his research and writings on nonviolent struggles throughout the world, who had distanced himself from the peace movement. That was to be her last visit to Voluntown before she died at the age of 93.
For a brief reflection on Marj Swann's legacy here in southeastern Connecticut, and a glimpse at the 50th CNVA anniversary protest in 2010, check out The New London Day's article (https://www.theday.com/article/20100613/NWS08/306139849)
Next week: We will focus on the “Swann House” on the VPT property. Inspired by the affordable housing building work that Bob had previously done for renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright, Bob designed and built the house for VPT.
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