On Friday, January 30th, our immersion course at Union Theological Seminary on Social Movements, Rights, and Religions will be joined by three leaders from the Forward Together/Moral Mondays movement with a long history of leadership in the Civil Rights movement and other fights for justice. We’re honored to welcome them and to learn from their decades of experience. They’ll be helping us and our course to prepare for the 2015 Moral March on Raleigh. Please join us for the day-long if you’re able, from 9:00am – 2:30pm at Union Theological Seminary (3041 Broadway, New York, NY) in the Bonhoeffer Room, and there’s also still time to save yourself a seat on the bus we’re organizing to go down to the march. You can find more details and the registration form here.

Ms. O’Linda Watkins Gillis

When O’Linda Watkins Gillis, President of the Moore County NAACP Branch, was brought before the Magistrate from the Wake County Jail after midnight on April 30, 2013, she was asked: “How long have you lived at your current address?” Ms. Gillis, in a bright red dress, smiled and said, “All my life.”

Ms. Gillis has been a grassroots leader in the North Carolina NAACP for over twenty years. She currently serves as the President of the Moore County branch in the Sand Hills of NC, a position she has held since 1997. Ms. Gillis’s NAACP Branch organized a Moral Monday in the small town of Southern Pines, in the heart of Tea Party county.Over 1,000 people came, setting in motion a new Movement in the Sand Hills. Ms. Gillis has been the heart and soul of the NAACP Branch in Tea Party infested Moore County for two dozen years. Her straightforward approach to dealing with the daily problems of hundreds of black people who lack money and encouragement, is legendary. She raised two successful children, Lee and Nefertiti, and she has three grandchildren. She is a retired educator, having worked with the State Department of Public Instruction for over 30 years.

Since the election of Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II as President of the North Carolina NAACP in 2005, Ms. Gillis has been the chief women’s advocate within the state conference of over 100 Branches and 20,000 members. As Director of the WIN (Women In the NAACP), Ms. Gillis has organized and led the annual Women of Excellence Symposium and Mother of the Year Coronation –the chief funding source for the State Conference. “Moral Monday would have never have happened, if the WIN Mother of the Year program had not raised over $100,000 each of the past few years to help pay for our tiny staff,” Rev. Barber said. The Mother of the Year honors the many “Mothers of the Movement” who have stayed true to the NC NAACP.

Ms. Gillis was the only African American woman to be arrested in the First Moral Monday, April 29, 2013.She, like Rev. Dr. William J. Barber who led the 17 state leaders to jail, had no idea whether their courageous witness would inspire any more protestors, much less set off the largest wave of mass protests in the South since the Freedom Rides and Sit-Ins of the early 1960’s.The First Moral Monday has grown to over 100 Moral Mondays in the state, and dozens across the nation.

Rosalyn Woodward Pelles

Rosalyn Woodward Pelles is a veteran of the civil rights movement and has a long history of social justice activism that spans four decades.

She is the former Interim Executive Director of the North Carolina NAACP. She served in this capacity during the pivotal and historic year when Moral Mondays erupted in the state capitol of Raleigh, and spread across the state. She continues to be a clos advisor and consultant to the organization and Movement in NC.

Prior to this, Ms. Pelles was the Director of the Civil, Human and Women’s Rights Department at the national AFL-CIO, the largest trade union in the world. Before the AFL-CIO, she was the Executive Director of the Union Community Fund, a national labor charity created to provide funding for social and economic justice organizations. She was also the Executive Director of the National Rainbow Coalition and Special Assistant to Reverend Jessie L. Jackson, Sr.

Ms. Pelles is an experienced advocate and organizer for workers’ rights. She was a National Representative for the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU), Labor Director at the National Rainbow Coalition, and Executive Director of the National Education Association Staff Organization (NEASO). Prior to moving to the Washington, DC area, she was also a workplace organizer and leader of the Duke Worker’s Grievance Committee, a workers’ organization at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, NC.

Currently in her community in Montgomery County, Maryland, she is a member of the Montgomery County Board of Elections, a member of the Montgomery County NAACP and National Organization of Women. She previously served as a Commissioner on the Montgomery County Commission for Women and was vice chairperson of the Montgomery County Human Rights Commission.

She is on the Boards of Directors of the Highlander Research and Education Center, where she is the Board chairperson and Interfaith Worker Justice.

Ms. Pelles received a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Psychology from North Carolina Central University and a Juris Doctor Degree from Howard University School of Law.

Ms. Pelles is married and the mother of three sons.

Al McSurely

Al McSurely is a civil rights attorney who has spent the past 50 years building and re-building the anti-racism Southern Freedom Movement. After becoming an attorney 26 years ago, Al has founded three law firms committed to fighting for the labor, civil and human rights of black, Latino, poor white and Native American North Carolinians. Before graduating from North Carolina Central University School of Law, he apprenticed under Movement attorneys Morton Stavis, Arthur Kinoy and William Kunstler, founders of the Center for Constitutional Rights. In these years he learned to fight off attacks on organizers and grass roots leaders, while building the anti-racism movement.

In 1967, McSurely and his wife Margaret Herring moved to Eastern Kentucky as part of the Black Power strategy to win white working class people to the anti-racist/anti-poverty/antiwar Movements. That fall the McSurelys received two invitations to go to Washington. Sen. John McClellan sent a man to meet the Republican Lt. Governor candidate, who secretly turned over to the Senator 234 copies of the McSurelys’ private papers they confiscated in a raid, which became the basis of a Senate subpoena demanding they bring the documents to D.C. A few weeks later, Dr. Martin Luther King wired McSurely with a request to help mobilize an Appalachian contingent to the Poor People’s Campaign King planned for D.C. in the Spring of the 1968 election year. King and McSurely both hoped the Appalachians’ participation would symbolize the evolution of the civil rights movement into a broad-based human rights movement. On April 4, 1968, unknown assassins murdered Dr. King, setting off spontaneous rebellions across the nation. Dr. King’s Poor People’s Campaign went forward, and McSurely helped organize and transport 150 Appalachians to D.C. to join Black, Brown, Yellow and Red working people. After two weeks of daily anti-racism, anti-poverty demonstrations, the U.S. Government violently tore down Resurrection City and drove the 3,000 working people out of D.C.

Since becoming an attorney in 1988, McSurely has won high profile cases against racist institutions across the state. He has helped black workers win more than $3 million while consciously building the NC NAACP as a leading infrastructure for the fractured Anti-Racism Movement in NC and the South. He helped win state recognition of the Occaneechi Band of Saponi Nation and 3 NC Supreme Court cases that expanded the reach of NC Constitution.

In 1990 McSurely became legal redress chair for the Chapel-Hill Carrboro Branch of the NAACP and has been involved in building the organization and the movement in North Carolina ever since. In 2005 National NAACP Chairman Julian Bond presented him with the NAACP’s highest honor for civil rights lawyers, the William Robert Ming Award at the National Convention. When Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II was elected President of the North Carolina NAACP, McSurely joined the state Executive Committee, leading the organization’s legal team as they won the freedom of two black men, James Johnson and John McNeil, who were wrongfully arrested and incarcerated for over three and six years respectively. He also helped build the legal and organizing foundation for the successful campaign to stop re-segregationists in Raleigh, NC from tearing down the public schools through “school choice” and “neighborhood schools.” Not one of those re-segregationist school board members remains in office.

In 2010 he shifted to lead the Communications Committee of the NC NAACP, where he has been instrumental in building what has now become known as the Forward Together-Moral Monday movement, which has seen mass mobilizations, arrests through moral civil disobedience and local movement-building over the past few years. It was the grassroots organizing of the 1990s and mid 2000s, particularly after the election of Dr. Barber, that set the foundation for one of the largest social movements the South has seen in a long time.