Our tour group with civil rights activist Joanne Bland
Following our visit to the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), we continued day four with a visit to the Lowndes County Interpretive Center. This center is a smaller museum, yet again tells the powerful history of local people in Lowndes County, which sits between Selma and Montgomery, as well as the March to Montgomery. During the march from Selma to Montgomery, protesters rested in Lowndes County, one of the most racist counties in the state. In fact, a sign used to rest under the town’s welcome plaque stating–“The city doesn’t welcome you, the Klan welcomes you.”
We told them we’d be back. I promised them the movement was coming to Lowndes. … Of course they were skeptical. Didn’t really think we’d be back, y’know? … [Hulett] wasn’t at all convinced. He said, “Young fella, you one o’ them nonviolence folk? … If you do come back, you all gon’ have to find a different way to come in here.” I told him we were coming back, by any means necessary. He just looked at me and smiled.
Next city on the agenda: Selma
Selma, the city which filled the history books, was a city I wanted to avoid. It has a heavy history despite being a really small town. On our journey there, I took a quick nap, yet awoke with a heaviness on my chest. A few moments late, our group’s leader announced, “We are about to head over the Edmund Pettus bridge.”
In Selma, we met Joanne Bland, who was one of the youngest marches on Bloody Sunday.
She showed us her city and its history, the good, the bad, and the downright ugly. We commenced our personal tour on the very slab of concrete protesters met on that Sunday, March 7, 1965. I will not spoil the tour, if you ever have the opportunity to go on one, but I will leave you with this. She asked us to remember the strength of activists like John Lewis, Hosea Williams, and herself. In times of frustration, she stated (this is all paraphrased), pick up the rock (from the concrete where our tour began) and get off your butt and do something. She took us around the city, showed us various historical sites, made a pit stop to get some peaches, and our tour ended at the city’s welcome center. There, Bland shared what she witnessed on March 7th and what she would never forget, the screams and the sounds of people’s head hitting the street. Oh America, the beautiful. Then it was our turn to walk across the bridge.
At first, I was quite nervous, but the strangest thing eased my nervousness. As we stood by the bridge I watched a mother walk across the bridge with her infant son. People have to walk across this bridge every damn day and although I am unsure of the city’s geography, I believe it is the only bridge to get on US-80 from Selma. But there we were, group’s photographers prepped their cameras, we got in rows of two, and proceeded across the bridge. I was not emotional. Honestly, I felt this sense of peace. The sun was shining, the Alabama River was calm below, and I simply reflected on American history.
We skipped the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute due to time and paid our respects at the Viola Liuzzo Memorial on US-80. And on our way back to Montgomery there was a rainbow stretched across the highway. A beautiful way to end a heavy day.
Bland spoke about the screams. The young girl Sheyann (Webb) running. John Lewis said he saw death. Bland challenged us to remember our rocks. The rocks we took from the playground they met before embarking on the march to Montgomery. Bland said, “I knew we would not cross.” Despite the preparation for any predicted violence, nothing could ever prepare them for what they faced that day. I wish I could buy Bland that house she showed us on the tour, so she can invite activists to teach her tour groups and the community. I wish I could preserve that concrete slab they stood upon that very day. I wish I could restore the home of every activist that now stands in ruin. I wish they could have never faced death. I wish, I wish, I wish.
I’ll post later about cameras.
Until the next post.