Civil Rights Story

by Artie Ravitz

Artie Ravitz is the father of Rachel Ravitz who married Matthew Brown, son of Elton and Emily Brown. Artie and his wife Susan owned a toy manufacturing business in Palmer, Pennsylvannia. Artie and Susan are longtime champions of civil righst. Following the death of John Lewis, Artie provided an account of his meeting John in Selma, Alabama. It is an interesting story and it is included here to preserve this history. Lest one conclude that Artie and Susan's devotion to civil rights has waned in the ensuing years, I have included some recent information also.

Date: August 1, 2020 at 2:23:44 PM CDT 

Dear Friends, I learned that John Lewis had just died when I woke up early this morning and read in my incoming e-mail. When I met John Lewis the first time, I was about 25 years old, and had been in touch with the SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) office when I had read of their voter rights program a few year earlier. 

I called their office in Atlanta and volunteering my services… Their first request was to call a number of Volunteer voter workers, listen to their requests, and soon began gathering and making up special "Care packages" of assorted items which dozens of the Voting rights activists needed to survive, while doing their job in rural Alabama and Mississippi during the year.

Most of the supplies I gathered were very basic items like soap, tooth paste, or towels. Some of the requests were very far out, like a banjo for rallies or an infra-red camera and film for night filming of police violence. But the best part was my meeting about two dozen SNCC workers who were eager to share with me many of their personal traumas which they faced during those trying times. 

SNCC closed its doors about ten years later; and it took me years later to learn why SNCC closed its offices. Sadly, I lost touch with all of the SNCC voter registration workers whom I had sent suppliers to over the first years of the movement. 

Suzie and I were in New York at our hotel the afternoon when we were watching TV and learned that John Lewis and 100 other CR fighters, were run over and beaten by the Alabama State Police. We saw the video of Bloody Sunday, March 7th, 1965, on the 6 PM news after we returned from setting up the Toy Show in New York City. During the past 10 months, I had been calling and receiving mail from a dozen Voting rights activists who needed personal items doing their voting work in the fields of Alabama and Mississippi. 

During that prior year, I had visited Jackson and Selma, 4 months before the Bloody Sunday’s happened. 

When I saw that horrible video of the police running into and beating all the civil rights workers, who had just crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge, I was so upset that I immediately declared myself a black man, and told Suzie that I was leaving tomorrow morning for the SNCC office in Atlanta, to join the followup march which I knew would happen. But Suzie, wise beyond her years (23) suggested that I first call Dinky Rommally, my SNCC northern coordinator, to find out what day the followup march would begin. 

Dinky, SNCC Northern co-ordinator, told me she would call me back in a few days since they were negotiating with the Justice department to re-schedule a new date for the next voting Rights March to Montgomery. Dinky called me within the week and told me to come to the SNCC office in Atlanta, on the 19th of March, and said that she would make sure to get me into one of their SNCC cars which was going to Atlanta. 

Two weeks passed until Lee Harris and I drove to Newark, jumped on a plane and flew to Atlanta, We arrived at noon, taxied to the SNCC office at 360 NW Nelson Ave. and were given a sandwich and soda for lunch. We were told that two cars would be leaving within a few hours to go to Selma. Shortly after 4 pm, we were told to walk downstairs with Bob Mants. There, Lee and I split up, each getting into separate cars which quickly filled up with other SNCC kids from head quarters, all heading, first to Tuskegee University where there was a dining room where an integrated group could sit down together.

During our trip to Tuskegee and to Selma, the guy sitting next to me on the right, kept pushing my head down whenever we passed a cop or a police car. I found out, soon after, that it was John Lewis, SNCC Chairman, who kept pushing my head down on our 6 hour trip to Selma. John told me that he did not want to get arrested before the main march started. I guess John did not hear that I had declared myself a Black man two weeks earlier. 

We stopped at Tuskegee University three hours later, where the SNCC kids were greeted like returning heroes. Many of the Tuskegee students knew the SNCC kids since many of them had worked in voter registration during the summer. That was my short, but important time that I spent with John Lewis, and the other 4 SNCC kids driving to Selma. After dinner, we went back into the car and left on the final three hours leg to Selma……. 

When we arrived, after eating a small snack, they gave me a short tour of Selma, dropped me off at Freedom House where I immediately went to bed. The March to Montgomery started 10 am the following day. John Lewis was up front, of course, with Martin Luther King, Jr. and other dignitaries; and Artie was half way back walking with, talking to, and listening to Joan Baez sing a few dozen songs and to Dick Gregory tell us a few jokes,…… But, that is another story. 

Thanks for listening, 

Artie Ravitz


Here is a link to a video that includes Artie.



From November 16, 2011, New Yorker magazine covering the Occupy Wall Street Protesters

Artie Ravitz, 72, Eastern Pennsylvania

When did you get here?

I got here this morning. I go in and out once a week.

How’s work?

I love retirement. I’m very busy. I work for the Democrats and Obama. I’m financially secure—I had a toy business.

There’s been a lot of talk of demands. What’s yours?

My demand is to correct the system because it’s skewed in favor of the rich and against the poor. My feeling is that Robin Hood was right.

How is President Obama doing?

I like Obama. He means well and he’s trying hard. The party of “no,” the Republicans, are against him. If he said he was in favor of motherhood, they’d be against him.


Robert Winter, Artie Ravitz and Elton Brown at Art's Toy Co., field trip, Kirkridge reunion, 1999

Susie Ravitz (Rachel's mother), Doris Renfro, Peg Brown, and Bob Winter at Art's Toy Co., field trip, Kirkridge reunion, 1999