Saturday, June 13, 2015

Civil Rights---Selma to Montgomery

Montgomery was at the center for the beginning of the Civil War, Jim Crow laws and the intimidation of Blacks by the KKK and local police that followed.  This made it fertile ground for the beginning of the Civil Rights movement that fought for voting and equal rights less than 100 years later.  There are many important sites of that movement in the area.  I find this especially interesting because most of these events happened in my lifetime.
The first major event that gained national attention was started when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a White man on a crowded bus.  Her arrest for breaking a segregation law that required Blacks give up their seat led to a 13 month boycott of the Montgomery buses.
The Rosa Parks Library & Museum tells the story of Parks and the boycott.  It is a walk through multi-media exhibit that starts with Parks getting on the bus, the driver confronting her and the police coming to arrest her.  It then chronicles the organization of the boycott that required providing alternate transportation for Blacks.  While all this was happening in Montgomery the case against the bus segregation laws was taken to the Supreme Court where they were overturned.  For her effort Rosa Parks is considered the Mother of the Civil Rights movement.  No photos are allowed in the museum.
The children's wing of the museum has the Cleveland Ave Time Machine, named after the bus route Rosa Parks was on.  The time machine takes you back to the 1800's and tells the story of the struggle of slaves and the events leading to Rosa Parks' defiance.  It is a good place to start if you don't know the stories of Harriet Tubman, Dred Scott, Homer Plessy and others who played a role in the long struggle for equal rights.
The Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King was the minister, was the headquarters of the boycott.  During segregation churches were the only places where Blacks could legally gather so they became the driving force of the movement.
The Dexter Church parsonage was where Dr. King lived while he was the pastor.  It was bombed during the boycott and fortunately no one was injured.
The Freedom Ride Museum at the Greyhound Bus Station was the site of the beating of Freedom Riders in 1961.  The Freedom Riders were Whites and Blacks who rode buses together in defiance of segregation policies that were still enforced despite being declared unconstitutional.  The savage beating of the riders when the bus arrived in Montgomery caused the Kennedy administration to take action to defend the civil rights of minorities.   
Fifty miles west of Montgomery in Selma is one of the iconic sites of the Civil Rights movement, the Edmund Pettus Bridge.  The events in Selma were started as a protest over the shooting of Jimmy Lee Jackson by state troopers in nearby Marion.  On March 7, 1965 600 marchers started toward the capital, Montgomery, to protest the shooting and the lack of voting rights for Blacks.  At the bridge they were meet and beaten by local and state police in what has become known as Bloody Sunday.  The bridge is a major stop on the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail.     
The trail, bridge, campsites, Route 80 and Dexter Ave in Montgomery are recognized as a national trail by the park service but the two interpretive centers are locally run and were not open on Sunday when we were there.  Not to worry, we met Columbus (right) and his friend who were very knowledgeable about what happened in Selma 50 years ago. 
Top is a mural to honor the people killed in 1965 during and after the march, Jonathan Daniels, Viola Liuzzo, James Reeb, Jimmy Lee Jackson and in the center Dr. Martin Luther King who was killed in 1968.  Bottom are the leaders of the Bloody Sunday March.  Hosea Williams (who I met when I lived in Atlanta), John Lewis (who is now a congressman), Amelia Boynton Robinson (who was left for dead on Bloody Sunday and who, at 104, was at President Obama's side for the 50th march anniversary walk across the bridge this year) and Marie Foster (a local Selma civil rights leader).
On what is now called Turnaround Tuesday, after Bloody Sunday Dr. King lead a march of 2000 from Brown Chapel (above) to the bridge where they prayed and then returned to the chapel.  At that point President Johnson called for Congress to pass a voting rights act.  The next day a judge lifted an injunction against the march and the President ordered nearly 4000 troops and FBI agents to Alabama to protect the marchers. 
Starting on March 21 some 4000 marchers started out on the five day, 54 mile march to Montgomery.  By the time they reached the capital there were 25,000.   
Plaque and mural at the spot where civil rights worker James Reeb was shot and killed.  In his eulogy Dr. King asked, "Why must good men die doing good things?"
Monument at the spot where Viola Liuzzo was killed by the KKK after she drove marchers back to Selma.  Being here and seeing these monuments gives you a real appreciation for those who were beaten and killed because all they wanted was for all Americans to have all rights equally. 
The scene at the capital when the marchers arrived.  This march was effective and in August 1965 President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act that ended literacy tests, called for federal monitors of elections and put in action lawsuits to end poll taxes. 
The crosswalk in front of the capitol with the footprints of marchers.  It is ironic that the march started by crossing a bridge named for a KKK grand dragon, Pettus, went along a road named for the president of the confederacy, Davis, ended at a capitol building where the segregationist governor, Wallace, wore a pin saying NEVER but resulted in passing a law they all fought against.. 
A few of the banners around Montgomery celebrating the city's Civil Rights history and 50th anniversary of the march. 
The Civil Rights Memorial was designed by Maya Lin, who also did the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, DC.  The wall is polished black granite with a biblical reference to justice quoted by Dr. King , "....until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream."
On the flat fountain are inscriptions starting with the 1954 Supreme Court's Brown vs Board of Education decision that ruled segregated education was unconstitutional.  Then there are the names of forty men, women and children killed between then and the death of Martin Luther King in 1968.  As  I said, these civil rights events happened during my lifetime and I was in Atlanta for two years soon after that including when Dr. King's funeral took place there.  So it was very interesting being able to get a first hand look at where the struggles took place.


Jan Mains said...

We saw the bus that Rosa Parks was on while touring the Ford Museum near Detroit. It made us want to visit that area this year. Thanks for sharing.

Doing It On the Road(Part II) said...

Thanks for the history lesson. This is one of my favorite blog posts!
No country can ever be great if it subjugates many of its citizens due to race, religion, or sex.