[Pnews] Please support the Freedom Archives as we wrap up our 19th year

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Tue Dec 18 12:19:01 EST 2018

/Winter 2018/

/Dear Friends,/

/As you are aware, our work depends mainly on your support! /

/Rather than simply recounting another busy year, we’d like to focus on 
our work with interns and young people by sharing a special story 
//–//one that not only uplifts one of the hidden histories contained 
within the Freedom Archives but also illustrates why we do what we do. /

My name is Kaila Rain and I’m currently an intern at the Freedom 
Archives. I’m in my last semester at the University of San Francisco 
pursuing a U.S. History major with minors in African American studies, 
African studies, and Anthropology. I’ve been with the Freedom Archives 
since June and I’ve learned a lot about the preservation and use of 
public history. But I’ve also learned a lot about myself as a budding 
historian and what I’m truly capable of. This was the kind of growing 
experience I was hoping for when I started my internship.

Three weeks into my internship, my experience took an unexpected and 
amazing turn. While filing newly-donated documents into the 
Atmore-Holman Brothers Collection, prisoners who organized for greater 
human rights in Alabama prisons in 1969, I came across a copy of a 
handwritten letter. I immediately recognized the handwriting. It was my 
grandmother’s handwriting. It was a letter about the passing of my 
grandfather, Ronnie Williams. Next I found a copy of my grandfather’s 

My grandfather was a founding member of the Alabama Black Liberation 
Front (ABLF) along with Wayland “Doc” Bryant and Michael Reese. They 
served the Black community of Birmingham by implementing programs that 
were modeled after the Black Panther Party’s programs (free breakfast, 
free clothing drives, distributing newsletters, self-defense classes, 
patrolling the police). As soon as the ABLF was founded, the local and 
federal police were out to bring them down. In September 1970, while 
providing protection and assistance to an older woman facing illegal 
eviction from her home, five ABLF members, including my grandfather, 
were ambushed by the local police in a shoot-in. My grandfather and Doc 
Bryant were arrested, put on trial, wrongfully convicted of felony 
assault of a police officer, and sentenced to serve five years in a 
state penitentiary. My grandmother, Susan Wheeler, had been living in 
Birmingham at the time, heard about Ronnie’s case and led the movement 
to free him and Doc Bryant. Ronnie and my grandmother fled Alabama to 
Portland, Oregon where they were married. When he was arrested in Oregon 
and faced extradition because of his status as a fugitive, my 
grandmother led an international movement to get Governor Tom McCall to 
grant Ronnie asylum in the state of Oregon. This collective effort was a 
success and Ronnie was allowed to live out the rest of his days, raising 
my mother, going to college, and fighting for other Black leaders facing 
the same life-threatening punishments he had once faced.

After my initial shock, I realized that I was meant to be at the Freedom 
Archives and find this document that connected my family’s history to 
the Archives and thus, something bigger. I grew up hearing about my 
grandfather Ronnie, the Black Panther who escaped death in an Alabama 
prison with the help of my grandmother, a young communist. I became a 
History major with a special interest in African American History so I 
could one day better understand my own family history.

Along with the enthusiastic support and guidance of Claude and 
Nathaniel, I am able to confidently explore my grandfather’s experience 
as a fugitive black liberation leader in the Deep South and the ABLF’s 
important role in the Black Power movement. I’ve now also started 
reaching out to historians, lifetime activists, and friends of the 
Archives who have connections or knowledge of my grandfather’s 
experience as I pursue this story as fully as possible. It’s an exciting 
and unbelievable experience for me. My time at the Freedom Archives and 
the kind of support I’ve received has shaped my identity and future as a 
historian in more ways than I ever could have imagined.

/While Rain’s story is especially exciting, hundreds of young people 
have been interns at the Freedom Archives over the nearly 20 years of 
our existence. Many have created their own audio or video productions, 
many high school and college-age interns have received academic credit 
for their time here. In addition to teaching archival and production 
skills, the intern experience has a profound educational impact as 
hidden chapters in people’s history come into focus for generations to 
come. It’s really the essence of why we’re here and why we say:/

*/Preserve the Past – Illuminate the Present – Shape the Future!/*


*/You can contribute by returning the enclosed envelope with your 
donation or by donating on line at
https://freedomarchives.org/donation/ <http://freedomarchives.org>
Please consider becoming a monthly contributor!/*

Ronnie Williams

Susan Wheeler




The Freedom Archives

522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110

Phone: (415) 863-9977

E-mail: info [at] freedomarchives [dot] org 

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