Joan C. Browning


Joan C. Browning grew up on a small farm in rural South Georgia inspired by Shakespeare and Sputnik. She went from proudly picking more than two hundred pounds of cotton in a day to volunteering with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. The first in her immediate family to attend college, she was forced to leave in 1961 because she had worshipped at a black church. She completed the B. A. degree thirty years later at historically black West Virginia State College. She has completed one third of a Masters in Humanities/History through Marshall University Graduate College.


In the fall of 1960, she innocently crossed an invisible color barrier seeking the warm, personal, Methodist religious worship of her youth. She felt herself a stranger at the Milledgeville Main Street Methodist Church services, complete with hats, gloves, and a passive congregation "entertained" by the choir. She attended instead - by invitation of a young black minister - the Wesley Chapel A.M.E. Church. Phoned threats of violence led her college president, Dr. Robert B. Lee, to coerce her into canceling a planned program to Wesley Chapel A.M.E.’s youth group. She attended the 1961 Paine College Student Christian Conference seeking understanding of the Methodist answer to the turmoil created by her attendance at a black church, and found Rev. James Lawson. She kept notes in a little black notebook of Rev. Lawson’s thoughts about the Christian response to racial segregation, as well as detailed notes about how to conduct direct action demonstrations. Her jail notes, little black notebook, and other papers from the freedom movement are in the African-American collection of Emory University’s Robert Woodruff Library Special Collections Department.


When she was forced to leave Georgia State College for Women, she moved to Atlanta in June 1961, discovered the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, heard Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. lecture in October 1961, and was one of nine Albany Freedom Riders on December 10, 1961. She volunteered with SNCC on projects in Georgia and Alabama, attended college, and worked in the Serials and Binding Department at Emory University Library (in the room now occupied by the Martin Luther King, Jr. Papers project!). She worked in human relations and anti-poverty programs throughout the sixties and was an organizer of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives.



She worked on grant-funded projects approximately a year each for the Southern Regional Council (clipping newspapers, labor project, and prison reform project), American Civil Liberties Union (death penalty cases & one man-one vote reapportionment), National Urban League’s Southern Regional Office (set up the Rural Development Office & VISTA trainer), American Friends Service Committee (where her research on segregation academies was published in hearings for the first Equal Educational Opportunities Act), VISTA Regional Office, and Federation of Southern Cooperatives.  Her autobiographical chapter, “Shiloh Witness,” is included in a collection titled Deep In Our Hearts:  Nine White Women in the Freedom Movement, published by the University of Georgia press. 


Joan’s Personal Website


NEW!  Capture the Moment:  Freedom Riders Teach from their Experiences


Now a free-lance writer on a mountain in West Virginia, she expresses the values that brought her to the Civil Rights Movement as a citizen and "villager" supporting quality of life initiatives, children’s programs, and libraries.  Joan joined up with B.J. Gudmundsson in 2004 to collaborate on a documentary film about the life of Rev. Carl W. Renick, Sr.  Since that time the two have collaborated on many projects and have many more in the works.

Contact Joan C. Browning at

304-645-6799  Email


Film Credits


2003 – The Biography of Gwen Clingman

with Gary Aide, Red Oak Productions


2005 – Where Credit is Due

Alabama Public Television


2005 – He Went About Doing Good


2005 – Standing on Holy Ground


2006 – A Sense of Values


2006 – Greenbrier Garden Club Homes Tour


2007 – Love to Share