Friday, March 14 Montgomery AL
Not much dramatic scenery today. We drove from Jackson MS to Montgomery AL. Logging and agriculture primarily along the road.
After a great breakfast at the Old Capitol Inn, our first stop on the route was in Selma, Alabama. It was already lunchtime so we stopped at the Downtowner restaurant where I am sure we were the only non-locals. In that regard, it reminded me of the social ambience of “Cheers” where everybody knows your name. The interior was 1950s lunchroom; the food was good, quick, and inexpensive.
For the young’uns reading this post, I hope you know why we stopped in Selma. It was the site of both tragedy and victory. This part of Alabama in the 1960s was still markedly racist. Voting rights were violently repressed. Only 156 of the county’s 15,000 voting age African-Americans were registered to vote.
Local voter registration efforts were thwarted, frequently violently. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Student NonViolent Coordinating Commission undertook marches and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. came in to help coordinate and publicize the marches. Police violence, mass arrests, refusal to allow registration, and a murder drew nationwide attention to the Selma efforts. We actually parked our car 50 feet from the murder site.
On March 7, 1965, a march was planned to go from Selma to Montgomery, a distance of 54 miles, to protest in front of the MS capitol. The marchers were met and blocked by state troopers and county sheriffs at a bridge over the Alabama river. The marchers did not return to their homes as ordered and the police used whips, nightsticks, horses and tear gas and chased and beat the marchers through the streets of Selma for hours.
In the next two weeks, several intermediate actions incurred including a murder, more beatings, and nationalization of the Alabama National Guard to protect marchers for a planned March again from Selma to Montgomery.
On March 21 began the five day march to Montgomery. It was limited in numbers for part of the route by court order but by the end of the march on the 25th, the crowd had grown to 25,000 including religious from around the country.
National attention to the march and the continued non-violent response of the marchers despite the violence of the police provided great strength to the adoption of the federal voting rights bill in August of 1965.
We made two stops in the Selma area. The National Park Service maintains a visitor center in Selma with exhibits and a video. We walked to the Edmund Pettus Bridge where the marchers were beaten on March 7th.
Our second stop was at the Lowndes Interpretive Center about halfway to Montgomery where there are further exhibits. Lowndes County is the next one to Selma and in 1965, 86 white landowners owned 90% of the land and even fewer blacks were registered to vote.
The Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery was our final stop of the day. This exhibit documents the 1955 bus boycott in Montgomery sparked by the refusal of Rosa Parks to give up her seat for a white person on a crowded city bus. The museum does an excellent job, including a holographic depiction of the bus incident.
The boycott lasted over a year and the exhibit detailed a lot of information that we did not know-or forgot. For instance, the actual Supreme Court case that forbade the segregation of the buses was based on three other women who were denied service. Mrs Park’s case sparked the national attention that was essential to providing support and initiating the successful boycott.
We drove by the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was pastor from 1954-1960. It was the base for the boycott planning. Lodging tonight is at the Red Bluff Cottage B and B. It is very nice and uniquely (for us) it offers 24 hour coffee, tea, pop, snacks and candy. So far I am not doing well in resisting the jars of M and M’s.
Ed and Chris March 14. 10 pm