Saturday, July 08, 2017

Civil Rights in Rural Alabama I

Until learning more about the Civil Rights Movement in rural Alabama I only knew about the events in Birmingham, the March from Selma to Montgomery, and other activities in larger cities. However, the Civil Rights Movement had a strong presence in smaller towns and communities in the Alabama Black Belt.

In 1965 there was a protest march in Greensboro when the African American community demanded the right to register to vote and marched from St. Matthew Church on Morse Street to the Greensboro Courthouse. They were not admitted in and the police demanded that they go home. Eventually the gathering was dispersed, there are differing accounts whether violence was used.

The white people of Greensboro watched and most of them were indignant about this event.

The African American community would ask for permission to march again on Main Street, but permission was denied. A barrier was set up at the corner of Morse and Main Street as not to permit the gathering to proceed on Main Street.

The African American community and some white activists from the North gathered at the barrier for a few days. There were always people at the barrier. After watching on for a while the police asked for support from Selma and one day buses arrived to arrest all the protesters and bring them to jail.

Accounts say that some were brought to jail in Selma but as there were too many people some were held in Greensboro and some close to Uniontown in a structure that was usually used for chain-gangs of prisoners who worked on the highway. Before being carted off they were given white sheets of paper to write down their name, date of  birth, and where they were from. They were photographed holding those papers.

Theresa Burroughs with sign,

I learned about these events on my visit to the Greensboro Safe House Black History Museum, a small museum run by the former Civil Rights activist Theresa Burroughs.

The museum is located in two shotgun houses that have special meaning to the African American community as it was here where Martin Luther King was kept safe after delivering a speech to the Greensboro community in 1968. The Ku Klux Klan threatened to kill him once he tried to leave the city and drove around armed in their pickup trucks. Two churches burnt that night that were located in direction where Mr. King might have been able to leave Greensboro. But as that seemed impossible Theresa Burroughs and her family hid him in their house. This was two weeks before Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee.

Dr. King arrives, photo by Theresa Burroughs,

With the help of the rural Studio the two houses were converted into a museum – connected by a glass hallway – displaying many items linked to the history of African Americans in rural Alabama.

No comments: