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Available in hardback – direct from Smallwood Charlotte Press (Publisher)


FEARLESS ought to be required reading for every high school student in Virginia. It is the inside story of the struggle for basic American rights, told from the perspective of those who lived through the oppression and fought for change. Any discussion of the impact of the poll tax or civil rights in Virginia, would be incomplete without an understanding of the life and accomplishments of Evelyn Butts.”

Chuck Robb, former Virginia governor and former US senator

Norfolk Mayor Kenneth Cooper Alexander, in his foreword for the book, said of Evelyn Butts, “What she accomplished as a voting rights champion truly spans the generations and deserves our continued recognition.”

—Kenneth Cooper Alexander, Mayor, Norfolk, Virginia”

“Charlene Ligon inspires the reader to look for “Evelyn T. Butts” in the dictionary under FEARLESS.  Too often the story of women especially black women is untold or under reported in the civil and human rights success movement.  FEARLESS captures the essence of brilliance and sacrifice of Mrs. Butts and her drive to make the world better for her family, her community, her nation.  I appreciate how Ligon does not shy away from recognizing men like Jordan, Dawley, and Holt who valued Mrs. Butts as a peer and a leader while refusing to hide the chauvinism and sexism that too often hindered progress.  Another volume on Evelyn Butts & The Women of Virginia’s 3rd Force is in order.  Read FEARLESS and have your faith restored in the power of one to make a positive difference for millions. No Evelyn Butts; no Governor Doug Wilder; no President Barack Obama!” 

—Rodney A. Jordan, Chair, Norfolk School Board


Charlene Butts Ligon


Charlene Butts Ligon is the daughter of Evelyn Butts. She is a retired Air Force master sergeant and lives in Bellevue, Nebraska with her husband Robert. She is the Chair of the Sarpy County Democratic Party and Secretary of the Nebraska Democratic Party.


Evelyn Thomas Butts stood in the plaza outside the United States Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on a cold and windy day in January 1966, waiting for an Associated Press photographer to take her picture. With the wind chill, the temperature felt like fifteen degrees. She was wearing a black coat she had made herself. Every garment she wore that day was put together on the sewing machine she kept on the enclosed front porch of her two-bedroom house in Norfolk, Virginia.

     She had one black dress for formal occasions. She wore a hat given to her by her sister Estelle, whom her family called Bunky—a soft faille hat with a band around it, both stylish and effective against the cold. Every woman in her family had borrowed the hat at one time or another, and she wore it in Washington as a good luck charm.

     Most days, Mrs. Butts could be described as a seamstress, an African-American woman approaching middle age, a mother of three daughters, and the wife of a 100-percent disabled World War II veteran. But on this day, she was the plaintiff in a lawsuit against the Commonwealth of Virginia, arguing that its poll tax discriminated against poor persons like herself. That’s why the Associated Press wanted her picture.

     The photographer positioned her off the building’s right-front corner and crouched low as he tripped the shutter. In the resulting photo, the Court’s columns loom high behind her. Mrs. Butts is not looking into the camera, but gazing off into the distance, as though she has somewhere to go. She is not smiling. It’s a pose one might expect of a corporate CEO. She looks powerful.

     And she was. I know this because Evelyn T. Butts was my mother. My two older sisters and I had front-row seats to many of the moments that led up to this photo. At the time it was shot in 1966, we were all grown and ready to start our own lives. In a sense, this photo, and her victory in the high court case that had brought her to Washington amounted to something like her society debut. From that point on, my mother was an important political figure in Norfolk and remained so until the last years of her life.