Monday, July 10, 2017

Civil Rights in Rural Alabama II

Many people know about the Voting Rights March from Selma to Montgomery, especially since the movie Selma came out in 2014. But I didn't know that it were events in the Alabama Black Belt that led to eventually three marches in March 1965.

The Selma voting rights campaign had started in early January led by Martin Luther King and other activists. It also extended into neighboring counties such as Perry with Marion as the county seat. Marion is about 20 miles (30 km) east of Greensboro.

On February 18 a march was led from the Zion United Methodist Church in Marion – across the street from the county courthouse –  to the county jail that was situated just a block down the street to protest the arrest of James Orange, one of the activists. However, when the protesters exited the church, officials blacked out all city lights in the area and Alabama state troopers started to attack the crowd with clubs.

Seeing the original locations in Marion I was surprised to find all the sites gathered around the courthouse building on just one block directly in the center.

The young deacon Jimmie Lee Jackson with his mother and his grandfather fled to a café behind the church. But police entered the café and started beating people there. Jackson tried to protect his mother from police brutality and was shot from short range. He died a week later in a Selma hospital.

At his funeral another activist, James Bevel, suggested to march from Selma to Montgomery to protest Jackson's death and press the Alabama governor to support voting rights for African Americans.

On March 7, 1965 around 600 people gathered at Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church in Selma and marched toward and across the Edmund Pettus Bridge across the Alabama River. Once they reached the other side and crossing the county line protesters were met by state troopers and county police who violently dispersed the crowd, using clubs, tear gas, dogs, and officers on horseback. This became to be known as the Bloody Sunday. Pictures went global and are still well known today.

Shocked by the violence many people around the US came to Selma for a second march held on March 9. This march became to be known as "Turnaround Tuesday" as the crowd, led by Martin Luther King, walked across the bridge, knelt down and returned back to the church without crossing the county line. That same evening the KKK attacked white participants of the march, one of them died to days later.

The third march, that started on March 21, after a federal judge ruled that the activists had the right to protest, and arrived at the state capitol in Montgomery on March 24.

The Pettus Bridge in Selma is very famous. But I never read anything about the bridge's name being a statement in itself. Edmund Pettus, a confederate general during the Civil War, was named Grand Dragon of the KKK in 1877, the final year of reconstruction.

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