As a young man, retired Farmington attorney John Obee traveled to Mississippi to teach, a move that set him on the path to his most recent achievement: co-authoring the memoir of noted civil rights icon Brenda Travis.
Obee talked about Mississippi’s Exiled Daughter, released this month, during the June 27 Farmington-Farmington Hills Breakfast Optimist Club meeting held at John Cowley & Sons in downtown Farmington. He explained that his teacher career was cut short when he arrived to find the school had burned to the ground.
“Instead, I worked on voter rights and registration, walking through the backwoods and registering people to vote and teaching them how to vote,” he said.
His crowning accomplishment: teaching an elderly woman who had never learned to read or write how to make an “X”. “She was given an opportunity for the first time in her life to vote.”
Obee said he was involved in civil rights during his entire career, handling many housing discrimination cases and specializing in hate crimes. He met Travis in 2012; the idea of sharing her memoir emerged about a year later.
Among civil rights workers, Travis’ story is well-known. Born in 1945 on a Mississippi plantation, she never knew her father, who had been ordered to get his wife back out into the fields when she was close to delivering their daughter.
Instead, the couple fled Macomb, Mississippi, and her father disappeared. “His life was in danger, because he stood up to a white man,” Obee explained. “This is a story about a father who was exiled. She didn’t find her father until she was in her 30s.”
Travis was deeply affected by the lynching of 14-year-old Emmett Till, who was brutally murdered after a white woman alleged that he flirted with her. Years later, the woman recanted her story.
Though she was just 10 years old, Obee said, Travis vowed to make life better for herself and her parents. Six years later, she was jailed for the first time, after attempting to integrate a bus station that had separate ticket lines for black and white passengers. When she returned to her high school after 30 days in jail, she was expelled.
The front cover of the book shows her leading a march of 100 students, who were jailed for protesting her expulsion.
Travis will talk about that experience and more in Mississippi’s Exiled Daughter during a presentation held at 6 p.m. on September 25, at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, 315 East Warren Ave. in Detroit. Learn more about the book at newsouthbooks.com.