Great Day in the Morning
A Novel

Why did I write this book?

I grew up in a small town in Eastern Oregon, hardly a setting back in the 1940’s for minorities, thus, no minorities attended my schools.

I enrolled at the University of Oregon in the fall of 1951, pledged the Gamma Phi Beta sorority and declared Anthropology as my major. During my sophomore year I attended a University Episcopalian Church breakfast where I met DeNorval Unthank, a young black man studying Architecture. Following that chance meeting we often met for coffee, he would walk me back to the “house,” and we enjoyed each other’s company.

My sorority, outraged by our friendship, insisted that I stop seeing him. When I refused to do so, I was asked to leave the sorority. I complied, and with no regrets and moved into Hendricks Hall.

De and I married later that year in Washington State. Why Washington? Interracial marriage was against the law in Oregon.

De, in his senior year at the U of O, and I lived in student housing. We had three children and lived a comfortable life, but spiked all too often with fear. Late evening phone calls with soft-spoken, but threatening words, or a kind of panting breathing. A local restaurant, Seymours, located in the heart of Eugene and favored by many local citizens, made it clear that we were not welcome.

In the early 1960’s I started to take night classes at the U of O. A black professor, active on campus in racial matters, had a profound influence on me. At that same time I met several newly hired U of O faculty members, about my age, who were imbued with an entirely new mind-set from what I had known.

I joined CORE, the Congress of Racial Equality, and the concept of writing about racism became a subject I wanted to explore. Why did I choose to write a book about a young girl who lived in The Mississippi Delta and comes of age during the 50’s and early 60’s, the early years of the Civil Rights Era? The question haunted me. How might I have reacted, had I grown up in the Deep South during that time? I was compelled to find out.

I visited the Deep South. I studied the culture. I talked to numerous Mississippians. I took copious notes. On one trip my daughters and I spent our time in The Mississippi Delta. We stayed in a B&B whose owner’s neighbor was the late Shelby Foote, the Southern historian seen on Ken Burns’ Civil War series.

I studied CORE and SNCC—Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. I read volumes of books. To name a few—David Halberstam’s “The Children,” gave depth to the complicated subject. Stokley Carmichael, James Bevel, Diane Nash, John Lewis, Jim Lawson and C.T. Vivian were giants in the difficult fight.

I found John Lewis’s “Walking With the Wind” not only educational, but inspiring. In February of 2000, I was thrilled to hear him speak here at the U of O, and in meeting him, found him to be pleased to sign his book for me.

Photographs by Bob Adelman and Essays by Charles Johnson in the publication of “Mine Eyes Have Seen. . .” provided exquisite photos and information regarding the struggle blacks endured while promoting their gain in obtaining their Civil Rights. Many of the photos are searing images that should never be forgotten, but maintained, on a steady display for all of us to say . . . This should never happen again.

Now, I ask myself. Is it? Are we, in the 21st Century, witnessing a subtle undoing of this great movement? I question the premise behind, “No Child Left Behind,” and the notion of Charter Schools. In 2014 I was, and I continue to be appalled and fearful about the Supreme Court’s decision to hack the heart out of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. I wonder how many young people are aware of the Act’s history.

I decry these senseless killings.

*February, 2012. George Zimmerman’s acquittal in killing young Trayvon Martin, a black, unarmed teen-ager. Why? Martin was walking to his father’s house in a gated community.

*August, 2014. Michael Brown, 18 years old, unarmed, shot and killed by the police. Why? He was walking down the middle of the street at night. White officer was not charged with the killing.

*September, 2014. Eric Garner, albeit illegally trying to sell cigarettes on the street, strangled to death by police officers. Police not indicted.

*November, 2014. New Voting Restrictions in Texas, North Carolina, and Georgia means a drop in voting by minorities, poor people and college students, groups that tend to vote Democrat. Restrictions are:

*Lack of newly required photo id.

*Unable to vote in new and questionable process by making it difficult, if not impossible.

December 8, 2015, our President’s statement: “Typically progress is in steps, it’s in increments. We should “recognize that it’s ( true racial equality), going to take some time.” This is the same tired argument used by white and black people alike who have argued “that taking incremental time is the way to proceed. I address this troubling phenomena in my book, “Great Day in the Morning".

- Deb Mohr, Jan 2015