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Celebrating the Life of Margaret Block, Civil Rights Activist and Inspiring Mississippi Freedom Teacher

Ms. Margaret Block, lifelong civil rights activist, teacher, and friend, passed away in June 2015. Her efforts to organize, agitate, and educate for social justice inspired men and women across the country to work together for freedom in America, including students of the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program’s Mississippi Freedom Project, whom she led for many years.

Margaret worked as a field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee with her brother, Sam Block, in the 1960s, as well as the Black Panthers in California, where she taught school for more than three decades. When she recently returned to the Delta to care for her mother, Ms. Block met SPOHP Director Dr. Paul Ortiz and became involved with the Mississippi Freedom Project, leading groups of students each year to historical sites across the Delta and teaching civil rights history using lectures, poetry, and song. Guided by her directional insight, students visited the home of Amzie Moore, the Taborian Hospital, the Fannie Lou Hamer Memorial, and other sites crucial to grassroots organizing for civil rights in the Delta.

Margaret Block was a great woman, an inspiration to our students, a freedom fighter who commanded respect all throughout the Mississippi Delta (and beyond!) as she taught countless people the traditions of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee! Margaret Block, presente!

The Samuel Proctor Oral History Program at the University of Florida will do all we possibly can to live the ethics Margaret taught us and to keep her memory alive. In honor of her revolutionary legacy and dedication to civil rights, SPOHP invites you to share lessons and memories from Margaret using the form below. Comments will be updated daily.

I’m outspoken, and if I see something wrong, I’m going to say something about it, because that’s my nature. You can’t sit up and see something wrong and not do anything about it, but I don’t consider myself a leader. I’m just a citizen that’s doing what you’re supposed to do, is being a citizen.

-Margaret Block, MFP-006B

A Poem Commemorating the Voting Rights Act of 1865-1965, by Margaret Block

Vote or die will always be my battle cry.
I cry for the slaves who are long ago gone
It wasn’t for the vote but t’was freedom they longed
And they cried and sang this sad song.

Woke up this morning with my
Mind stayed on freedom
Woke up this morning with my
Mind stayed on freedom
Hallelue, Hallelue, Hallelujah
Vote or die.

Vote or die was Mary Ann Cary’s battle cry
She was an attorney in D.C.
The year was 1880
She fought for the woman’s right to vote
She asked Hiram Revels if you can vote, then why can’t I?
Vote or die was always Mary Ann’s battle cry.
Vote or die.

Vote or die was Aaron Henry’s battle cry
He got in the battle early on.
He was a pharmacist and Clarksdale, Mississippi was his home,
They put him in jail and beat him up
And made him ride on the back of a garbage truck.
They tried to take away his dignity and
He told them that when he got the vote,
We will all be free.
Vote or die!

Vote or die was Malcolm X’s battle cry
He asked LBJ in no uncertain way which will it be
The ballot or the bullet.
Vote or die!

Vote or die was Hartmon Turnbow’s battle cry
He lived in Mississippi town in Holmes county
They put bullet holes through his front door
And they set his house on fire because
He said that he was going to vote in the fall
Because freedom was his desire.
Vote or die!

Vote or die was Diann Nash’s battle cry
She fought for rights in Nashville, Tennessee.
She went to jail all over the land
She took a lot of young people by the hand
And said if you vote, it’ll set us free.
Vote or die!

Vote or die was Rev. J. D. Story’s battle cry.
In 1962 he took a very brave stand
And he let the world know that he wasn’t a coward
But a god-fearing man
He said that “the doors of the church is (sic) open”
And he showed no fear because
The vote to him was crucial and dear.
Vote or die!

Vote or die was Larry Rubin’s battle cry.
He came to Mississippi because he had a dream
But they locked him up in Holly Springs.
When he went to court he took a stand
And told the Judge, if you can vote, then why not every man.
Vote or die!

Vote or die was Sam Block’s battle cry
When he went to Greenwood they beat him up and threw him in jail.
They told his attorney there would be no bail
He stayed in jail and stood his ground
And he turned Greenwood upside down.
Vote or die!

Vote or die was Jimmy Travis’ battle cry.
While in Greenwood he got shot in the head
The Klan thought that he was dead.
They were surprised he survived and when he awoke
He said in a voice very loud
My head is bloodied but unbowed
Vote or die!

Vote or die was Arnell Ponder’s battle cry
They almost killed her in the Winona jail
She told Euvester to hold her head high
Because when they got out
She would vote or die.

Vote or die was Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer’s battle cry
They did her a favor when she got kicked off the land
She went to Ruleville and took her stand.
She told the world with force and pride
That she was sick and tired of being sick and tired
They beat her up in the Winona jail
When she got out she was strong but kind
And she would always sing this little light of mine.

This little light of mine
I’m gonna let it shine
This little light of mine
I’m gonna let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.
Vote or die!

“Vote or Die” copyright © Margaret Block, all rights reserved. Images from the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program and Independent Florida Alligator, taken by Alex Catalano, January 20, 2012.

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