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Idessa Redden Collection

Idessa Williams-Redden was a pioneer in Voting Rights activism as well as a key participant in the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott Movement.

Biography

Idessa Williams-Redden became an avowed “freedom fighter,” known as a “race person,” at the tender age of 16, in 1928. It was during this period when she listened to a radio-talk show with influential White, racist politicians, who were laughing at the fact that Blacks were so poor until they could never be voters because they will never be able to pay poll taxes. As Idessa listened, she vowed that she would save money for the poll tax and become a registered voter when she became 21 years old. The politicians were Tom Heflin, the father of future U.S. Senator Howel Heflin; E.C. “Bud” Boswell, who shepherded the passage of the “Boswell Amendment” that became law in 1945 to issue the “literacy test” as a pre-requisite to voters’ registration and designed to keep Blacks off of the voting rolls.

Idessa Taylor was born November 27, 1912, in the city of Montgomery. Her mother passed when Idessa was 2 years old. Soon afterwards, her father moved out of town and abdicated all responsibility to his toddler daughter. Idessa was raised by her maternal grandparents, Julius and Lousa Harris. Her great grandparents were born and lived a significant part of their lives as slaves. Important to note is that Idessa’s grandmother died in 1925 at the age of 90+, meaning that she was born at least by 1835.

Idessa attended St. Paul Methodist Church School, Loveless, St. John Catholic and State Normal High Schools. After completing her high school requirements, she gained employment from 1934-1944 at the Reliance Manufacturing Company (“The Shirt Factory”) making shirts for the United States Navy. While working at the “Shirt Factory,” Idessa attended Bethesda Beauty and Culture School. She opened up her business, “Idessa’s Beauty Nook” in 1949.

From listening to that racist, radio broadcast in 1928 until the late 1940s, Idessa, like all Black Montgomerians, was hogtied in the vicious grip of “Jim Crow,” apartheid USA-southern style. Idessa had married George Williams in 1938. Williams was a carpenter and his work depended upon getting jobs with White construction companies. Blacks knew by custom that if they attempted to wrench from the grip of legal racism, it could be instant death by any White person to whip or kill any Black person who got “out of place.”

However, change was on the horizon. A young, Black AME Zion minister and his family moved from North Carolina to Montgomery in 1948. Reverend Solomon S. Seay, Sr. was assigned the pastorate at Mt. Zion AME Zion Church, the site where the Montgomery Improvement Association (1955) was born to steer the Montgomery Bus Boycott Movement.

By 1949, Reverend Seay, a native Alabamian, was firmly entrenched, recognized and respected as a fearless and moral leader in the Black community. It surprised no one, though many feared for his life, when Reverend Seay took on the issue of the rape of a Black woman, Gertrude Perkins, by police officers, who, of course, were White.

The White, power structure did nothing to correct this egregious injustice. Reverend Seay championed the cause for respect and dignity of Black womanhood. This voice to honor Black women motivated Idessa to become a registered voter, no matter what the consequences.

After four attempts and exchanging terse words with the insulting registrars, Willis and Mulligan, Idessa finally became a registered voter in 1949. There was no turning back for Idessa’s commitment to the “struggle.” She immediately joined Coach Rufus Lewis in his crusade for full voting rights as a “block captain” to encourage people to sign up for voting rights as a “block captain” to encourage people to sign up for voting rights clinic and as a “citizenship teacher” where she taught prospective Black voters how to fill out the “literacy test,” the prerequisite to becoming a registered voter.

Black youth gravitated to Mrs. Williams-Redden because of her obvious conviction to gain first-class citizenship for Black people. This was most symbolized by the right to vote, free of all barriers. Her positive stance and fearless expression imbued youth, especially with the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in their militant demand, “Freedom Now!”

Idessa was targeted by the Montgomery Police as one who should not be arrested and thrown in jail. The “Jim Crow” authorities feared she would be a “cause celebre,” thus, swelling the ranks of the Movement, particularly with Black youth and Northern Whites who were joining the Movement in legions.

Idessa’s involvement in the Movement placed a strain on her marriage. Her husband began to suffer reprisals by not being hired by White construction companies. Work was becoming scarce. The couple divorced in 1971. Idessa later married John Redden, Sr., a retired school teacher, who unconditionally supported all of Idessa’s Movement activities. He passed in 1981. In 1970, Idessa served as a social services worker with the Montgomery Community Action Program, a project that grew out of the Movement as a federal government response to begin to correct the inequities that had festered in the Black community since slavery time. Idessa retired in 1998 at the age of 85, satisfied that she had honored her childhood vow to serve her people. “Working in the Civil/Voting Rights Movement was the greatest challenge of my life. I was in the Movement to help my people. I have dedicated my life to help uplift all human beings,” she said upon her retirement.

Descriptive Summary

Title: Idessa Williams-Redden Papers, 1956-59, 1963, 1993
Collection Numbers: Barcode #s 402937 and 402988
Creator: Idessa Williams-Redden
Size: 3 cu ft
Repository: H. Councill Trenholm State Community College

Administrative Information Provenance
Gift of Idessa Williams-Redden, 1995
Processed by Dr. Gwendolyn M. Patton

Scope and Content Note

The Idessa Williams-Redden Papers document her movement involvement and how these experiences influenced her personal life. Williams-Redden was a key participant in the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott Movement, never missing a Monday Night Mass meeting (1955-58), except when visiting 2 weeks out of year with out-of-town relatives. She was one of 20 Montgomerians who joined Birminghamians on the bus ride to the 1963 March on Washington. In 1993, Williams-Redden was a part of the 30th March on Washington Anniversary. The papers are divided into the following series: chronicling the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott with news articles, programs, pamphlets, sermons and related information; the 1963 March on Washington and its 30th Anniversary with original posters, bumper stickers, programs, news articles and related information; Personal Papers, comprising correspondences and her speeches, church activities, news articles about her movement involvement, college grades and term papers in social work; and Awards.

Three video-tape interviews available.

Container List

1955 Bus Boycott Movement

Box 1 (#402937)
A scrapbook of magazine and news articles (1956-59), covering Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s leadership, related travels and the NYC stabbing; arrests and court cases (Claudette Colvin and Mary Louis Smith) of boycotters; editorials; letters to the editor by JoAnn Robinson, prominent Boycott leader and Al State College professor; student (Alabama State College and Tuskegee Institute) and youth participation; rare and original movement programs and comic book; Negro rallies against the death penalty; White support of the Boycott; mass meetings, people’s transportation system and strategy sessions; sit-ins; school desegregation attempts (U of AL); Emmett Till murder; written sermon by Rev. Dr. Vernon Johns. N.B.: Scrapbook in fragile condition though articles still have research life.

1963 March on Washington and its 30th Anniversary in 1993

Box 2 (#402988)
1963 March on Washington
1 original NAACP poster, highlighting the assassination of Medgar Evers (June 12, 1963)
2 original United Auto Workers Union posters for "1st Class Citizenship" and "Jobs with Higher Wages"
1 poster of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
1 hand-made poster by Williams-Redden, reminding viewers that "40 acres and a mule" were never granted 30th Anniversary of the March on Washington (1993) complete 30th Anniversary newsletter, "The National Action Alert"
1 bumper sticker
News articles covering Williams-Redden’s reflections on 1963 and 1993 March(es) on Washington
2 "thank you" notes (appreciation) to Williams-Redden for her commitment to the Movement
#405942 (Garment Box 3)–Dress, Purse worn on 1966 “March Against Fear” in Jackson, Mississippi; Photograph of Redden on the March, wearing attire.

Personal Papers

Resume; pamphlets and programs on the Delta Ministry (MS.), nuclear attack, Dunbar School (1963), 1999 Selma-to-Montgomery Voting Rights March, 200th Bill of Rights Anniversary; City of St. Jude Catholic Church and National Council of Churches; correspondences and personal writings; attendance at Pres. Bill Clinton’s inauguration; note cards, final exam, term paper and grades for class-Social Worker 251; research paper written by TSTC student on Women (Williams-Redden) in the Movement.

Awards

Certificates of Appreciation/Merit; Woman of the Year for Iota Phi Lambda Business Women Sorority (1997) and Senior Mother of City of St. Jude Catholic Church (1999).

Index

  • Abernathy, Ralph D. (Rev.)
  • Alabama State College
  • Bennett, Roy (Rev.)
  • City of St. Jude
  • Culbertson, John Bolt (Esq.)
  • Evers, Medgar
  • Gray, Fred, Sr. (Esq.)
  • King, Martin Luther (Rev.)
  • Langford, Charles (Esq.)
  • Lucy, Autherine
  • March on Washington, 1963 and 1993
  • Montgomery Bus Boycott, 1955
  • Montgomery Improvement Association
  • National Council of Churches
  • National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)
  • Nixon, E. D.
  • Parks, Rosa L.
  • Patterson, John (AL Governor)
  • Randolph, A. Phillip
  • Robinson, Jo Ann
  • Seay, Solomon S. Sr. (Rev.)
  • Selma-to-Montgomery Voting Rights March
  • Shores, Arthur (Esq.)
  • Tuskegee Institute

Inventory of the Idessa Williams-Redden Papers: 1956-1959, 1963, 1993
H. Councill Trenholm State Community College

Contact Information
Special Collections and Institutional Archives Division of
H. Councill Trenholm State Community College Library
1225 Air Base Boulevard
Montgomery, Alabama 36108
Phone: 334-420-4475
Fax: 334-420-4476
Email

Processed by: Dr. Gwendolyn M. Patton; Date Completed: May 2001

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